By Joe Rector
One of the most favorite things about summer to many is the chance to go barefoot. In other areas of the country, we Tennesseans are believed to be shoeless all the time. The fact is that I’ve never been crazy about going without shoes. Doing so has always caused nothing but troubles.
Oh, I too once loved the freedom of feet not bound by leather or canvas. In summer, Mother always took a pair of scissors to our old Keds to cut the toes from them. That gave enough room for our growing feet to wear them just a little longer. Yet, my toes longed to touch the ground unhampered. Without shoes, I enjoyed going out in the side yard, turning on the hose, and playing in the water to cool down. Jim and I made the ground squishy from our activities.
However, on too many occasions I suffered for going without something covering my feet. Our yard was filled with clover. That meant thousands of flowers from the plant filled the area. With that many blooms always came bunches of bees. It took little time before I’d step on one of them and suffer a sting that sent me howling to the housed for relief. Mother would do her best to calm me while she made paste of baking soda and water. The rest of the summer I wore shoes outside. The joy of “barefooting” disappeared.
As a small child, our family visited grandparents who lived on Louisiana Avenue in Lonsdale. Papaw Rector sat on the front porch like a king. He would drink from a glass and then toss the ice onto the lawn. I wanted to prove how grown up I was by doing the same thing. When I tossed the ice, my grip slipped and the glass went flying and crashed in the yard. Shards of glass lay hidden. Later in the evening, I played in the yard and rammed one of those shards into the middle of my foot. I squalled as Mother used a pair of tweezers to extract the glass from the gash in my foot I just knew would need hundreds of stitches. A band aid sufficed, but from that day I made sure to always wear shoes at my grandparents’ house.
I quickly learned the importance of shoes for vacations activities in the mountains. We kids would set out on treks to the river and our favorite swimming hole. Going barefooted resulted in bruised soles and mashed toes as we walked on rocks that lined the dry creek bed that led there. One of our favorite things was riding the rapids on our bottoms. We’d sit down feet-first in the river and allow the current to carry us along until unprotected feet rammed into rocks in our paths. When the water became too shallow, we had to walk, and when mossy rocks proved slippery, our feet bashed against them with painful results.
Perhaps I was a slow learner because I continued to go barefooted into my early adult years. Amy and I had been married only a couple of years when we bought a house in south Knoxville. The living room was spacious enough to place a couch, as well as a large, comfortable chair and ottoman. I plopped on that chair to watch the NCAA basketball final four game featuring UNC Charlotte. When a commercial aired, I jumped from the chair to make a bathroom run. On returning, I managed to kick one of the wheels on the ottoman, and when I grabbed my throbbing foot, I discovered that my broken little toe sat at a right angle to my foot. A trip to the ER ended with the toe being taped to its next-door neighbor. For a couple of weeks, the only thing I could wear on the foot was a bedroom slipper.
Since that time, almost 40 years ago, “I don’t do barefooted.” People make fun of me for always having a pair of shoes or slippers on my feet. It makes no difference to me. I’ve lived long enough and experienced too much misfortune with my “piggies” to let the comments of others change my mind about shedding the shoes. I’d rather be safe than sorry. My feet will never risk another sting or cut or fracture because they’ve been left uncovered.