The Red Boots
By Pat Tyler
When I turned nine I developed a profound longing for life's non-essentials, the first being a pair of cowboy boots like my rich cousin Vivian's. I knew Vivian was rich because she lived on a big ranch and had a horse of her own. But it wasn't her horse I coveted: It was her boots. Once I'd seen them I couldn't get them out of my mind.
They were Knock-Out Red and red looked good on me. I thought about them every morning and I prayed for them every night. Weeks passed and, despite my prayers, no boots appeared. It was time to get practical. I went to the barn.
"Daddy," I said. "I want some cowboy boots. Red ones, like Vivian’s.”
He sat on the last sack of grain and looked me in the eye. “Do you need them?"
I stopped to think. "I don't know. I really like them. And I want them real bad. I just have shoes."
"Well, there's wanting boots," he said, "and then there's needing boots." He patted the grain sack, inviting me to sit beside him. "Can you ride a horse in just shoes?"
"Can you walk around in just shoes?"
"Yeah, but Daddy," I whined.
"Honey, if you really needed boots, I'd find a way to get them. But, right now, what this family needs is grain for the cattle and a pump for the well."
I focused on my Oxfords, pretending they were boots. I prayed Daddy would stop talking. He didn't.
"For example, people can't live without food and water," he continued.
"They're essential. We don't just want them, we need them in order to live. Understand?"
"Yeah," I grumbled. Daddy tousled my hair and I knew his talk had ended. My longing for red boots had not.
Soon after, grain appeared in the barn and Mama had water in the house again, but I didn't have any boots. I prayed harder and harder. Months passed. No boots appeared. Didn't God have boots either, I wondered?
In time, my obsession faded. I fixated instead on my tenth birthday. My dad was planning a down-home rodeo behind our barn, with barrel races, calf roping, and prizes for the contest winners. Cousin Vivian was coming.
Finally, my birthday arrived. The rodeo ended and the prizes were distributed. We dashed to the house for cake. I could hardly wait to open my presents. The last gift I opened was in a box so big it came clear up to my belly button. Inside I found another smaller box and inside that box were four more, each one smaller than the one before. In the last box, beneath a wad of crumpled newspaper, I discovered a perfect pair of bright red cowboy boots.
My mouth flew open. I could hardly breathe. "Daddy! Red boots! They're beautiful!"
As I danced in joyful circles one boot flew east, the other west. I grabbed them and slid my feet back inside. My ankles buckled. One boot listed starboard. I yanked it up and shuffled toward my Dad.
"You'll grow into them, Honey," my dad said chuckling. "I couldn't waste money on boots you'd outgrow tomorrow, could I?"
I hugged him. "Can I try them out now?"
"You bet," he said.
We left the house and walked straight to the barn. Actually, my Dad walked; I shuffled slowly. With each step one boot or the other would slip from my foot. I slid stiff-legged across the dusty corral.
My father had saddled our horse, Queenie. When I shoved my left foot into the stirrup and swung my right leg over the saddle, my right boot sailed off and landed in the nest of Daddy's favorite chicken, Harriet. Harriet panicked, squawked, flew into Queenie's face, and clawed her. Queenie squealed and reared like a racer at the starting gate. My left boot slid from my foot to the ground, landing squarely beneath Queenie's front hoof. Before I dropped back in my saddle, Daddy had snatched it up and held it tight, but I saw the deep gash—a print of Queenie's horseshoe—etched in the new red leather.
"It's ruined," I said, blinking back tears.
"Don't cry honey. It could've been worse," he said, rescuing my second boot from Harriet's nest. "You could've needed these boots. What if they were all you had?"
I couldn't stop sniffling.
"Besides," he continued. "Now they look like they belong to a real cowgirl. Like they've been around a while. Forget about this ding.”
I never did. And, although eventually I grew from that tomboy into a cowgirl, a teenager, a wife and a mother, I never grew into those boots. When Dad visited I would wear three pairs of socks and spray adhesive on the insoles to keep them on for an hour or two.
Once, when I was leaning forward in my kitchen chair and pulling on a final layer of socks, my husband said, “why don’t you chuck those things. They’re so big. They look ridiculous.
"I love these boots," I said. I ran my fingertips over the hoof print embossed like a brand in the old crackled leather. I stood and felt the familiar movement of my feet as they slid north and south then snuggled into their proper places. "Didn't I ever tell you about these?"
He shook his head, no.
"I got them a long time ago,” I said, wriggling my toes. “When I didn't even need them."
Pat Tyler’s work has been published in Fate Magazine, Tacoma News Tribune, To Honor A Teacher (A Jeff Spoden Anthology), and Good Housekeeping Magazine. Pat won awards in Writer's Digest's Annual Competitions in 2000 and 2003. She is retired and living in the small town of Cotati, located at the hub of Sonoma County in Northern California's Wine Country.
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