For those of you that know me, you probably know I take terrible care of my feet. I hate wearing shoes, or socks, and one glance at the shoes I wear on a daily basis would make both the health conscious and the fashion conscious cringe. I bought a pair of $20 boots for my work in the bakery last year, and 5-6 months later when I quit I had blown out the side of the right shoe to the point where a small chipmunk could have burrowed in there and been safe from winter’s fury, warm and nestled up against my intrinsic muscles.
But I still wore them.
Yep, I wear shoes til they just can’t shoe no more. I finally dumped those boots when my wife saw the hole and, to be completely fair, they had begun to smell a bit like an old, wet, and possibly decaying dog. Between all the mop water and melted snow and rain I’d slogged through filling the delivery van, and all the sweat and toil and flour dust and the occasional dollop of poppyseed filling or garlic butter, they had absorbed such a cocktail of horror that I felt no pain in chucking them in the bin. But in that case, I could write off the smell as a result of the situations, the conditions, so I didn’t think it was something I was actually doing.
You see, the rest of my shoes aren’t doing so well, either. The newest pair I currently have are a pair of $9 Walmart specials I bought in desperation to help my sister move a few years back. After that, I bought a pair in desperation one day back in 2006 or 2007 when I had a singing gig and no black dress shoes to wear because I’d forgotten my old ones 300 miles away. Perhaps you’re seeing a theme in my shoe buying, mainly being that of desperation. I don’t like buying new shoes because A) It’s money I’d rather save to support a family or for that rainy day when a hospital bill or emergency causes both myself and my college-educated wife to scrape the barrel to avoid vagrancy, and B) because I grew up in a family where it was a point of pride to have a t shirt that lasted through three sons, or to superglue the sole of your Avias back on because it flapped and lolled like a dog’s tongue when you ran. When you don’t have much, you make it work for you rather than against.
All but one of my shoes (the aforementioned $9 pair) have been worn to the point of leaking when wet. And, in case you haven’t noticed, it’s been a rather wet winter. Whether it’s tromping around a playground on monitor duty as a substitute teacher or slogging down a sidewalk to another part time job, my feet are now like a pair of liquid-cooled engines, propelling me forward with each resolute step in each 15 hour day I choose to undertake. In another effort to wring as much money as possible from the clothes I wear, I’ve started doubling up days on my socks if they haven’t gotten too heinous the day before. Less laundry is less money, after all. However, I’ve noticed that as I wear my socks more often, and as my shoes get considerably holier, that an odd set of circumstances has arisen in that my feet smell. Well, obviously they will in this situation, but it’s most particular in how they smell.
They smell like my Dad’s used to smell.
Yes, I have many horribly fond memories of my Dad’s feet in those dark socks and that foreboding odor. They say smell is the sense closest tied to memory, and I believe it. It was a running joke in my family’s house that remains to this day, where we shake our heads in shocked amazement as my mother’s cat will playfully romp around my Dad’s shoes, no doubt half-intoxicated and half-asphyxiated by the smell. But as I peeled off my busted shoes last night and caught a whiff of the past, it made me think: did my Dad work through so many thankless hours in shoes that leaked, like mine do? Did he double up days on his socks, like I did? And if so… why? I like to think that he did it for much the same reasons I do it now: saving money, providing for the family, and personal pride. After all, what kind of man is going to complain that his widdle tootsies are getting cold and wet? Pas une! So now a decades-old joke in my family has a new undertone, that of a man who possibly endured a rather uncomfortable situation as he slogged through muddy fields in spring, half-thawed cowyards in winter, and the soft, hot dirt of summer, not to mention the already decaying loam of fall, in shoes that probably felt horrible… but it meant we had enough to eat, and good winter coats, and at least for myself, we never felt as poor as we were growing up.
At least, that’s the story I’d like to believe about my Dad.