The path he trod, the boots he wore

My grandfather wore boots - not cowboy boots, and definitely not soft-leather dancing boots. He wore old-fashioned, sturdy, lace-up work boots. The boots had to be sturdy to provide a protective barrier against the rocks, rain, mud, manure, thistles, and snakes that my grandfather encountered in his work.

In 1946, after 30 years of wearing city shoes and working in journalism, public relations, publishing, and merchandising, my grandfather laced up his work boots and spent the next 33 years farming and raising cattle. The reasons for such a life change were complex, but the end result was a farm that kept him challenged and involved for the rest of his life. It was also a farm that became a haven for his four grandchildren: a place we could explore, enjoy, love, and carry within us into our adult lives.

The farm's 300 acres were surprisingly varied for its north Texas location. It had pastures, fields, woods, pecan orchards, ponds, springs, a creek, and even a gravel pit. Hay and corn grew in the fields; sheep and cattle grazed in the pastures. On foot or horseback, we could wander to the farthest reaches of the property or follow the winding path of the creek. We could find sun or shade, wilderness or garden, solitude or company, and - always - a good meal at my grandmother's table.

As a child, I was fascinated by my grandfather's boots - their well-worn leather, the contrast between the narrow ankles and the wide sturdy soles, and the long laces that had to be patiently pulled and wound and tightened.

He had several pairs, to allow wet ones to dry thoroughly between wearings. He kept them in the shop, the small outbuilding behind the house that served as my grandfather's gateway to the working farm. One of its doors opened into the fenced yard of the house and the other to a pasture and the gravel road leading to the barn. The shop housed piles of tools, supplies, and hardware, and its back corner served as a changing area. In the morning, he would stop in the shop to pull on the heavy coveralls and work boots that he wore winter and summer. Returning from a day's work, he left his dirt-encrusted clothing and boots in the shop, before reentering the precincts of the house and yard.

The objects that a person uses or wears with regularity inevitably absorb part of their owner's essence - none more so than gloves and shoes. I cannot look at photographs of my grandfather's boots without seeing the man himself. The boots and the man shared many characteristics: sturdiness, strength, and an old-fashioned appearance. But the boots also had worn into the shape of my grandfather's ankles and feet and retained the physical evidence of his daily work in the form of scratches and encrusted dirt.

My grandfather chose to change his life and wear work boots. He knew that labor was of limited use without intelligence, and he constantly read, questioned, and reasoned his way toward improving his farming operation. But his daily routine encompassed the unending physical labor required on a farm.

My grandfather created a farm that was a place of wonder and memories for his grandchildren, without ever disguising the struggles and reversals that helped to form it. His worn and dirt-encrusted work boots were as much a part of the place as the green grass and the fields of grain, and I loved them all.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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