RED LEATHER COWBOY BOOTS
Some crazy things come over certain women after fifty. Certain women like me. I was fifty when I got my first tattoo. I have adventurous ideas to bring to life and more inhibitions I plan to shed during my next fifty trips around the sun, so stay tuned.
Last fall, I made a pact with my childhood friend Shari that we would both buy ourselves cowboy boots for our next birthdays. She, too, plans to step out of some longstanding self-imposed boundaries, so the cowboy boots idea felt good for both of us. We decided there’s no better way to step out of those boundaries than in cowboy boots. Or perhaps we should call them cowgirl boots.
I met Kate earlier this year. She was warm and friendly, and her quiet but strong spirit cast an aura that graced all of us in her presence. I noticed that even before I noticed her red leather cowboy boots.
Much like the moment when I knew my husband would be the one, I knew when I saw her boots that I would buy red leather cowboy boots to fulfill the dream, as well as the pact with my friend. Still, it seemed brazen and a bit too daring for a woman like me, a woman who may appear conservative and reserved on the surface, but I’ve gathered that what lies beneath surprises new friends—in a good way.
The doubts began to surface. Kate was obviously younger than me; perhaps I was too old for such a statement. She rocked those boots, but could I pull it off without looking like a fool? The doubts continued to nag, and I continued to try to shush them.
The more I tried to quiet the little voice that told me to pursue the boots, the louder it got. I made up my mind, and I wanted to let Kate know how she inspired me. We were now Facebook friends, so on Friday, April 3rd, I sent her a private message, confessing that I had coveted her boots since I saw her in them, and I wanted a pair like them. In short, I wanted to be like her when I grew up. She kindly replied, and wished me well on my quest.
The next morning, April 4th, I was reading my daily book, the one I gave to my mom—she loved it, the one I got back when she died, and now the one she speaks to me through when I read it (almost) every day. So many times, the words on those pages for that particular day are exactly what I need to hear, and I realize she is still advising me almost every day if I just listen. On April 4th, however, I realized I hadn’t yet read April 3rd—the day I sent Kate the message on Facebook. The topic of the day on April 3rd was finding out what your secret life would look like if you took the small steps you could take to get there. I went back to read it, and near the bottom of that day’s page, in the words of the author’s quest, this is what it said: “Maybe it’s as simple as realizing that I’d really love to wear beautiful red leather cowboy boots.”
I had to re-read that. And read it again. Then one more time. That sealed the deal. I would indeed buy red leather cowboy boots. Mom told me to through the book, and Kate had inspired me.
Later that week, I looked ahead on Facebook to see who else was having a birthday soon. I already knew a few friends who were my birthday buddies, and a few celebrating shortly before or after. There, however, on my birthday, was a new friend, someone I had met earlier this year.
I had to read it again: It was Kate.
Shopping for these boots would have to wait. I didn’t want to go out shopping for non-essential items in the early days of the pandemic, and, I wanted to wait for my friend Shari so we could shop together. I certainly couldn’t buy them online. My feet—the delicate creatures they are– needed to try them on in person to ensure a good fit for such an investment.
That day was last Friday when Shari came to town for her birthday. I wrote about our celebration and hiking trip in last week’s post, but I didn’t write about our boot-shopping trip.
I was working down the Interstate in Abilene that day, which was on her way to my home. My work schedule was set almost perfectly to meet her as she arrived. We lingered in Abilene for a while, and hit the western store on the way out. There was a multitude of boots on the shelf in my size, but I didn’t see any red ones.
Shari browsed, and I continued to peruse the selection, thinking perhaps if I looked hard enough, a red pair would appear on the shelf.
They didn’t. However, as Shari was seated trying a pair on, she spotted a red pair on display on an endcap close by.
“How about these?” she asked. I hadn’t noticed them. I am usually the one with the shopping eye, so she was quite proud of herself for seeing them before I did.
There was a pair on top of the box, and a pair inside the box. They were the only two pair there. They were beautiful. And perfect. And red. And one pair was my size.
It was as if sunbeams from the heavens shone down upon my feet in those boots, and, just like when I finally got my haircut a few weeks ago, the angels sang from on high.
They fit. They felt good. They were red and beautiful. They were expensive.
Shari didn’t find the perfect pair, so I hesitated to purchase mine without her, even though she encouraged me to if I wanted to. We went on to my house and enjoyed Shari’s birthday dinner with my family, as well as Gail, Lydia and Suzanne. The company was great, the food was good and the laughter was good medicine.
Still, the thought of the boots lurked in the back of my mind.
I found them online, and, of course, they were cheaper. But, I resolved, if I was going to buy them, it was going to be in my beloved Abilene. Abilene, Kansas, rich with Cowtown history as an important stop on the historic Chisholm trail. Abilene, Kansas, the small town I have loved ever since I went there to see the Eisenhower Museum when I was ten years old. Abilene, Kansas, where I now work nearly every day, and my heart still skips a beat when I drive into town. Abilene, Kansas, where the school mascots are the Cowboys and Cowgirls. Abilene Kansas, home of Rittel’s Western Wear, a family-owned business that deserved my business, especially in this time of widespread economic turmoil.
I have a long way to go in turning around my shopping patterns to more strongly support the Mom-n-Pop businesses, but if I bought them there, this was a step in the right direction—in a pair of kick-ass boots, of course.
It was Friday. I had some time to consider this investment before I went back to Abilene on Monday. Both Suzanne and Shari knew, I think, that I would indeed return to the store to buy them. Gail, not fully being in tune to the cowboy boot thing, thought they were cool, but I don’t think she had the prescience Suzanne and Shari did.
They were right. I couldn’t stop thinking about them, and I couldn’t wait to get back there on Monday.
The owner, Jacque, was there, and so was Courtney, her able assistant. Both of these women were in the store on Friday when Shari and I were there, and they both remembered us. They couldn’t have been more helpful or friendly, which, of course, sealed the deal.
I am now the proud owner of Red Leather Cowboy (Cowgirl) Boots. I will do whatever I can to help Shari find her perfect pair, because she helped me find mine.
Without any influence from me—or Shari, Suzanne bought her own pair of cowgirl boots several weeks ago. I didn’t know she, too, had been thinking about making the investment for some time. For her, the style was perfect, the price was right, and she had a gift card to this store. For her, this was the jackpot trifecta that convinced her to buy the boots. Perhaps most importantly for her feet, they were comfortable.
Now, we need to work on Gail to buy herself a pair of cowgirl boots as well. She can’t be one of us when we wear ours if she doesn’t have her own pair.
I neglected to recall a major part of Gail’s personal history that is relevant to this blog. I completely forgot about the cowgirl chapter in her life, but she reminded me after I left it out of the first draft of this blog I sent her.
Thirty years ago as I was wrapping up my year in Philadelphia, Suzanne called me and expressed her concern about Gail.
“Something has really come over Gail. She’s getting into this new country music that’s coming out; she’s really going crazy over it. There’s this one singer that she thinks is so cool. HIs name is Garth Brooks.”
Gail did confirm that she had indeed gone country for a spell. In effect, she was country when country was just becoming cool. She had the cowgirl boots then, as well as the western shirts, and probably the belt buckle and the hat. She no longer has any of them. She does still listen to country music.
It shouldn’t take much for Suzanne and me to get her outfitted in a pair of boots again.
When we were kids, we bought all our shoes in nearby Downs at Stigge’s. They were the local purveyors of clothes and shoes, and if you are a native of our hometown or the area, please give us an Amen in the comments if you shopped there, too. At some point while I was in high school, Stigge’s moved across the street into a new building, and aptly renamed themselves Stigge Villa. They sold shoes on one side, and housed a locally famous bridal store on the other side. Another family-owned business—True’s, moved into their old building and continued to support the fashion trends for the area. As far as we all knew in those pre-internet days, we were all stylin’ in north-central Kansas with our clothes and shoes purchased in Downs, Kansas.
There was always something magical about new shoes. I remember the thrill as a child, and it is still there every time I get a new pair as an adult.
I also recall that in our childhood, both Gail and I had to wear “corrective shoes” that were sold at Stigge’s. I remember Leo, the proprietor and corrective-shoe expert fitting us for these beauties. If I’m not mistaken, the politically correct term now is “orthopedic shoes.” Our dad escaped the draft due to his flat feet, and without them, we may not be here, so if we did indeed inherit our imperfect feet from Dad, then we shouldn’t complain. I do remember the shoes were rigid and less than fashionable. Apparently, I’ve blocked out any further memories of them, because that’s all I can recall.
Gail was able to save one of her corrective shoes from years ago. It is proudly on display in her private room in her home, “Camp Gail.”
Unlike my current shoe collection, I do recall that I likely only had one pair of these corrective shoes, because they were expensive, we weren’t rich, and my feet were still growing.
So what is it about shoes? Why does a woman like me—and many others too, apparently, delight in owning a ridiculous number of shoes? Because I am a trivia nerd, and I like to know how the mind works, I dug into some online research. I am reporting what sounds like a good answer:
Unlike other pieces of clothing, shoes are sculpted. When we are not wearing them, they remain in the same shape, as if they are a sculpted work of art. Our other body coverings lose their shape if we are not inside of them. Therefore, shoes seem to have their own personality apart from other clothes, and if their personality aligns with out tastes, then we like to wear them.
Shoes, again unlike other pieces of clothing, affect our stance, our posture; the curve of our bodies. They can make us stand up straighter and command more attention. They often make their own unique sounds in action, which can give us a feeling of power when we walk in them.
In short, they have the power to make us feel powerful.
Shoes, of course, are necessities. We need them to protect and cradle our precious feet. We couldn’t remain ambulatory without them for long, unless it’s summer on the farm and one’s feet are tough as shoe leather, as all of us eventually trained ours to be every summer by going barefoot outside as much as we could.
Deeper than all of this, though, is the fact that shoes connect us to the earth. We are grounded through our shoes. We make contact with the ground, the floor, the sidewalk or the street, and we are one with the earth.
It’s 96 degrees here right now, and I don’t know how soon I will wear my new cowgirl boots for their inaugural trip out. I won’t wear them often; I’m not a cowgirl at heart, but that doesn’t matter. They are now a part of me, and when I wear them, I will feel a special connection to the earth, and to that adventurous woman inside of me I mentioned in the first paragraph.
Plus, they are red shoes, and I am a Kansas girl. I have several other pair of red shoes—shocker, I know—and I always tell people when they comment that every Kansas girl needs red shoes. Perhaps I will expand that notion and reply to any comments regarding my new boots that (almost) every Kansas girl needs red cowgirl boots.
Thanks to Kate for her inspiration and to the author Sarah, for Mom’s message through her book.
I hope you can find a way to take the steps toward the secret life you desire for yourself, with or without red leather cowboy boots.
Ban Breathnach, S. (1995). Simple Abundance, New York: Warner Books.