A toasty treat for my winter feet

As a child, loved shaking my grandmother's winterscape paperweight to watch snowflakes swirl around the tiny, smiling denizens within. Although frozen midstride, they seemed snug and content togged up in muffs, scarves, and boots.

As our first big Midwestern snowstorm this season recalled that beloved bauble, I thrilled to the prospect of a snowy, old-fashioned winter after several unusually mild ones. After two more such storms in quick succession, however, I began getting cold feet. For keeping my feet warm in cold weather has long been my Achilles' heel.

"If your feet stay warm, you'll be warm all over," Grandma used to say as she buckled up my squeaky rubber overshoes and shooed me outside. But she consistently glossed over just how I was to accomplish that feat, even as my feet seemed determined to demonstrate that the inverse of her maxim was equally true. Thus I grew up to pooh-pooh old-fashioned notions about keeping one's extremities toasty despite winter's extremes. Instead, I sought high-tech solutions, like space-age metallic socks guaranteed to augment the natural heat of human feet - assuming said appendages did their duty. (Mine didn't.)

Next I tried battery-powered knee-highs. Tiny wires ran beneath the toes and up into the cuffs, which held AA cells. Alas, the wires shifted, then shorted, and the Evereadys hung heavy against my calves. After several more such experiments, I re-reconciled myself to perennially cold toes.

Later, during recent warm, dry winters that seemed custom-made for hothouse flowers like me, I grew happily habituated to wearing street shoes and even "indoor" shoes outdoors - which is my only plausible excuse for having headed out to visit a friend last month heedless of wind and weather, wearing thin cotton socks and cork-soled felt clogs.

I guess I'd expected my friend's sidewalk to be cleared. But it wasn't. So I waded through deep snow to her stoop, clogs filling with snow faster than Frost's woods on a snowy evening, my heels cooling (quite literally) as I waited for her to answer the door.

The next day, I dug resignedly through my closet for the snow boots I'd last worn in 1997. But upon stepping out in them for a stroll, I recalled that although fine for shoveling and slopping through parking-lot puddles, these boots weren't made for walking, at least not far. With each stride they shimmied my white crew socks down my shins, ultimately bunching them like small snowbanks beneath my arches.

Meanwhile, I noticed that my husband was sanguinely clomping everywhere, clad comfortably in his homely old hybrid shoe-boots. Still, I remained convinced that a wearable, warm winter boot had yet to be invented for the likes of poor me. As my ill-clad feet continued to get cold and wet, I ventured out less and less, reverting to the stubborn, standoffish stance I'd assumed during so many winters past.

Then one evening we invited our neighbor Irv over for dinner. "Come in! Make yourself at home," I said, as he cheerfully hoofed his tall, thick-soled leather boots on our entryway rug, like a trained horse counting to three. As I reached for his parka, he pulled a fuzzy slipper from each pocket, then bent to remove his boots, revealing thick woolen stockings.

As Irv stepped into his slippers and sniffed the pot-roasted air appreciatively, his upbeat demeanor recalled the little figures in Grandma's paperweight, ever-ready in their earmuffs and boots for all the glorious snowfalls I'd unleashed as a child.

It struck me that maybe my feet weren't any more fragile than Irv's. If only I could find the right footgear, I too might make peace with winter - and the sooner the better, given that some giant, unseen child seemed to shake my own little corner of the cosmos with unsettling frequency.

Could the solution be simpler than I'd thought?

The next morning I went shopping. Then I took a long, snowy hike, in my airy old athletic shoes, of all things. Although the shoes got soaked, my snug new woolen knee-highs kept my feet warm - and just as Grandma had always promised, I stayed warm all over. (Why hadn't she ever touted the wonders of wool, warm even when wet?)

Clearly, old-fashioned winters demand old-fashioned footwear. After weathering untold Januarys with the proverbial wool pulled over my eyes, pulling the real thing over my feet has put me back in circulation. What's more, my nifty new socks, in fire-truck red - minus metallic fibers, batteries blessedly not included - have since proved themselves shimmy-proof.

I'm just getting warmed up. Now, a jumble of sneakers, clogs, oxfords, and galoshes fairly trip over one another in my hallway, clamoring to be worn outdoors. But most days, feeling feckless and footloose once again in my blazing red wool, I still don the clogs.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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