Growing up Daddy wore the same thing just about every day. Jeans, belt, white t-shirt, and a chambray shirt made by Mama, matched with his work boots as he headed out the door. When he’d wear one chambray shirt out, she would snip the buttons, and attach them to the new one she was making. When Mama realized she did not enjoy sewing, he started wearing short sleeved button down Oxford style shirts–in light blue or white. The last few years he interpersed those with a t-shirt, long or short sleeved weather dependent; often one I had embroidered a design on. I think his favorite might have been the one that said, “Shade Tree Carpenter,” because that is what he was in his retirement. He’d stand out there under the shade of the tree he called the trash tree because it made such a mess shedding its leaves, and he would create and build all kinds of wonderful things to be enjoyed by his grandchildren. That was one t-shirt design he asked for. It was a classic.
All that is to say, Daddy was laid-back.
I think he was probably glad our rehearsal dinner was at Nu-Way, where a sign was put on the door early that morning–“Dinning (sic) Room Closed, 6 pm, Wedding Party.” His daily dress was just right for the party.
During his last couple of months, when he was pretty much bed-ridden, Daddy and I would visit and talk about all kinds of things. At the time I had been thinking about getting a pair of boots. My oldest Aub had saved up and gotten her a pair, and that flung a craving on me I guess you could say. Daddy and I talked about the best kinds, how to care for them (saddle soap and all), and what color we thought I could pull off. I had seen a pair of bright red ones with white and turquoise flame stitching. I really wanted to be the girl who could pull them off, but I just wasn’t sure.
It was mid-November when Daddy’s fight with the lymphoma came to an end. In the midst of everything going on, I had not even thought about what I would wear to his service. It was the day after he died, that Friday, that we were scrambling–meet with the funeral director, take the clippings from the tea olive and cedar to the florist for the spray, make many, many phone calls, feed the children, and last but not least, plan out what each person was going to wear to the service the following day. Mama called me aside. “I want you to go get your boots. Go right now, you should have time, and get them. And then I want you to wear them tomorrow. You have a denim skirt, right?”
I nodded, thinking of how appropriate that was for Daddy. Who rarely had a day he didn’t wear denim. “Yes ma’am, I can make it happen.”
“Oh, and Tara?”
“See if you can find some dress shoes for me. You know, a nice pair of flats. I don’t have any shoes to wear for tomorrow.”
So I was off on a mission, one of them nigh unto impossible. Mama had not been shopping in ages while caregiving for Daddy, so I had some experience in the “shopping for her” arena. And I knew how hard it was. I won’t say she was hard to please, but let’s just leave it at sometimes “she had high standards.” Ahem.
First stop was the ride over to the Western Wear and Horse Supply store near my house. I walked in and looked at the red boots I’d told Daddy about. No, they just didn’t suit. I walked the aisles a time or two, feeling the pressure of time and a lengthy to-do list crowding in. Then I saw them. Just enough red to make me happy, and what a beautiful deep, rich red. Those were MY boots.
I didn’t fare as well for Mama. I went to her favorite clothing store, Belk’s, and found two pairs that were possibilities, and I got them both. I could return either or both later. Both it was. Mama tried, but since her foot surgery, only certain types of shoes were comfortable. Her sweet cousin wound up loaning her a pair of dress shoes that were just perfect.
The next day was the first time I wore my boots for real. And I loved them. Still do. I don’t know if it is because they were christened with the red dirt of home, but when I wear them, I find a sense of strength that I didn’t feel before. I kind of fancy them as my “kickin’ attitude” boots. Usually it’s a good attitude, but when I had to meet with doctors and ask hard questions during Mama’s HospitalStay, I wore those boots. When I have had to take a stand, my boots were right there under me. And when I stood again at the little country cemetery, saying goodbye to Mama, I wore the same boots I first wore at Daddy’s funeral. Imagined or not, perception’s what we are dealing with people, and I perceive that they give me strength. Anyone remember Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking?” Yes. That. (Only with longer skirts…..)
In the past two months, I have acquired two more pairs of boots. I wear them mostly to save the soles on my treasured pair. I need to have them resoled. I’ve done a lot of moving in them. My sister found the black pair at her GW Boutique in Atlanta. Can you believe that? I don’t want to talk tacky, but I just have to brag about her skills–for less than $10! Those boots were the perfect dress boots to give me what I needed on that bittersweet and precious Graduation Night of my girl two weeks ago.
It was a week after my sister made her find that we were at our local GW, and my 8 year old saw the red pair. It was like there was a heavenly light shining above them. Leading her to them. She was enthralled and so happy. They fit her and we brought them home. The other day I asked her if she planned to wear them again, and she said, “Well yes, when I go riding horses.” (Ummm, yeah, because that’s been pencilled in.) Turns out they feel funny to her feet, and turns out they fit me just fine. (She’s going to be really, really tall.) So, score!
One cold night over a year ago, I was out rather late, picking Aub and her friend up from the movie theater. It was past my bedtime, so I was in comfy clothes and threw on my lined Crocs and headed over. As I was sitting there in the parking lot waiting for them and people watching, I saw a group of teenagers gathered together near the curb. About that time a little man walked up to get his tickets. The teens saw him and began to laugh and make exaggerated gestures, mocking this man. He and his friends never noticed as they bought their tickets and went inside. But it made my blood boil. When Aub and her friend got in the car, I told them about it, and I lectured them that I better not ever…..well, you know the drill. They might as well have been guilty the way I carried on. As I drew to a close, Aub’s friend leaned over to look at my feet, grinned, and said, “Miss Tara, it’s a good thing you didn’t have your boots on or they’d have been in real trouble, wouldn’t they?” See, even he knew. I’m tough stuff when I have them on. (Or so I tell myself.)
Tonight I’m thankful for a laid-back Daddy, and for a Mama who honored that and loved him for it. I’m also thankful for my parents who raised me to be strong–to pick myself back up when I’m in the depths, and who bought me my first pair of grownup boots that remind me of that strength. I love my family and friends who sit with me in those depths and cheer me on when I pull my boots out. The thing is, I know there are more hard times ahead. I also know, that even though things will get shaky and dark, in the end, I can handle it. I’m going to come out on the other side. Maybe a little more worn, maybe a few more scuffs, but still standing tall.
And for those who might have been deprived of Nancy Sinatra growing up–here she is, her and her boots.