PhD in Barefootery
Originally published on May 2, 2019 in the Tribune & Georgian
As summertime begins to settle in here in South Georgia, I’m reminded of how quickly time passes. Spring on the farm brings a heavy workload. The longer days begin to ebb together. Before you know it another year has flown by. Father Time waits for no man.
My wife and I have three beautiful children. Each unique and special, with their own distinct personalities. A shared talent they all possess is being really really good at going barefoot. A true gift. A PhD in barefootery. I submit to you bare feet as an art form. Artists, the whole lot. Their feet are the brush and Camden County is the canvas. They dabble in naked feet the way Eric Clapton dabbled in guitar. That is to say, that they possess an instinctual genius, an innate ability. It flows from them like an artesian well.
Case in point. My daughter is the youngest of my three kids. At the ripe age of four she probably owns more shoes than I’ve owned in my entire life. She loves shoes. This of course all goes out the window the moment she steps foot on that sandy Waverly soil. Shoes come off. Barefoot and free. This is not a trait my wife and I nurtured. My wife more than me has attempted (in vain) to thwart this compulsion to go barefoot. You could argue it drives her crazy.
My middle child is eight. Truly he has taken the art of going shoeless to heights not explored since the 1800’s. There was the time we left to walk to the deer stand. It was a crisp autumn day. The kind of day that screams football and deer. Each of us was wearing shoes as we began our journey. We wove through briars and grapevines and oaks and pines and finally reached our destination. One at a time we climbed into the treehouse stand some fifteen feet off the ground. Getting situated I glanced down. “Where’s your shoes?” He looked at me like I was speaking Mandarin. This whole scenario has played out countless times. He did the same thing turkey hunting beside the Okefenokee. I glance down and here’s shoeless Joe creeping through the turkey woods, briars apparently unable to penetrate those asphalt feet. In his opinion shoes are a hindrance and he can resist no opportunity to shed them.
His older brother is eleven. The maestro of this orchestra. I could tell of the time I was in the carpool line to drop him off at kindergarten. I glance down. “Where’s your shoes?” I find myself asking this basic question often. I ask it in the garden. I asked it as we hiked across Cumberland towards the beach. Heck I even asked it when we went to the Saint Marys ball field to get some preseason practice in.
I knew fatherhood would be ripe with challenges but this one hit me out of left field. I’ve seen them take off in a dead sprint on a gravel road totally barefoot. Running as if they were wearing the finest shoes money could buy. They swear that you run faster barefoot. I had to nix a request last year at field day to run the 50 yard dash without shoes.
Over the years I’ve grown to accept and even embrace it. I mean in an age where it can be a challenge to get kids to even play outdoors, a part of me finds it endearing to watch these barefoot warriors having the adventures of a lifetime. I’ve taught them to be “swampwise”, as the great Okefenokee Joe would say.
Watch where you step. Recognize your surroundings. School will be out soon and it’ll be summer break. A time when a barefoot child can really shine.
I say a little prayer that as they each grow into the adults, they will become that they never forget the kids they were. The kids that refused to wear shoes.