Tuesday, August 13, 2013

These Boots Were Made for...Me

About the boot thing: it's been a lifelong problem. I think it started in 1964 when my father was working in Tuscon, AZ, while his family remained in New Jersey (he was an up-and-coming electrical contractor and somehow managed to win a bid to help built the Titan Missile bases, so off he went, leaving mom with four children still at home (and I was the equivalent of three myself). So for the summer, he suggested we all come out and spend June, July and August traipsing around the southwest.

Let me repeat that: June, July and August. The southwest. And my mother agreed to this? Clearly, she was sick of managing her two teen-age sons, whiny pre-adolescent daughter and 3-year old future Catholic school terror, me. We boarded a plane and landed in Phoenix where we lived in a long-term motel kind of place that had a pool, which was, understandably, where we spent most of our time other than when Dad took us on road trips. I remember several things from that summer, aside from the cell-sucking heat: large Gila monsters on the side of the road were cool-looking up close. Roadrunners looked NOTHING like the cartoon version, nor did they go "beep-beep!" as they ran across the highway.

And boots. I remember boots. Cowboy boots for men and women, boys and girls. I got my first pair, along with my first cowboy hat, at a boot shop somewhere along a dusty highway, and it was a revelation. I have never since felt as cool as I did when I first pulled a pair of boots on and walked with a new-found authority around the boot shop. I can imagine the salesman probably called me "little cowgirl" or something equally cliche, but I was three and was not yet offended by sexist remarks (though cliches were starting to bother me at that point). I just knew I had found my defining fashion feature.

Upon returning to NJ (my father followed not long after and launched his business, called Titan Electric in honor of his first big contract), it appeared my mother was not going to feed my new-found hunger for tooled leather, heels, pointed toes and cowboy swagger. I began nursery school (that didn't work out too well, but that will have to wait for another blog) wearing stupid freaking maryjanes that said nothing--NOTHING--about the southwest heart beating in my chest. No wonder I was out of place at the Little Red House Nursery School in Caldwell, NJ (yes, it was called that). I was meant to live a life on a horse, tumbleweeds blowing by me as I galloped across the mesa. There were no mesas in New Jersey, unless you count the long, flat stretches of the Garden State Parkway, and I never once saw a cool girl on a horse trotting down the median. My dreams were drying up and blowing away.

And then, in 1966, Nancy Sinatra entered my consciousness with the song that became the closest thing to an anthem I've ever had (Jimmy Buffet's "I'm Growing Older But Not Up" and, of course, "Day-O" are up there too). It's my karaoke go-to, my party-pleasin' guitar solo choice. It's that rare song that delivers an anti-authority, mid-60s feminist message, has a good beat, and you can dance to it (American Bandstand: another '60s icon). Somehow, that song got me over the hump--the bootless, horseless hump of life in a Jersey suburb.

One fall, right around that time, the Sears catalog arrived. Remember those? The Christmas version? Huge books full of everything from table saws to lingerie, toys to tires. And a large section of children's clothing. Like many children, I pored over that catalog, making crisp lists in pencil on yellow paper: all the things I wanted. Needed. And that one year, I wanted an outfit worn by a girl in the catalog, a girl I envied for her incredible good fashion fortune: red cowboy hat and boots, red skirt with fringe (I would have preferred jeans, but those were not available for girls). Red vest (with fringe). It was the boots I coveted most.

Santa was good to me that year, starting me down a long, dusty trail of boot-wearing. I know I have too many, but you know how it is. One pair of black (or brown) boots is not like every other pair. Different heel heights, different lines, different comfort levels. Some are ankle-high, some are calf-high, some are knee-high. But all make me feel cooler and more confident when I wear them. When I pull on a pair of boots in the morning, I got me some shwaggah. Pumps do not do that for me. Who DO they do that for?

About two years ago, I found myself at the NCAA convention in San Antonio, Texas, and came upon a boot shop. I went back three days in a row, debating the merits of purchasing a genuine pair of Texas cowboy boots (as opposed to the East Coast girl collection in my closet). With the support of my patient colleague Rebecca, I tried on about ten different pairs before settling on a pair of black and tan beauties made of leather and...python. Seriously. Snakeskin boots. If I had been able to wear these while attending the Little Red House Nursery School, my entire life might have been different.

I write all this to explain just how challenging it will be for me when boot season comes 'round (and it is just around the corner). I will get twitchy in that way I did poring over the Sears Wish Book. I will be filled with envy of some cute girl in a red fringe vest, cool hat and...then I will remember that in my closet, yes, I have my very own trip down memory lane. And that lane is a trail, a dusty trail. And that trail? Maybe it ends in Phoenix, where I will pull these on, give a steely-eyed look and order myself a glass of Chardonnay. Straight up, pardner.

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