RED LEATHER COWBOY BOOTS

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Giddy-up.

 

Ban Breathnach, S. (1995).  Simple Abundance, New York:  Warner Books.

FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

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FITTING FINAL FAREWELLS

When the former leader of our country shed tears on live television this week, I shed them, too.  He was saying goodbye to his father, another former leader of our country.  At this moment, his most important role was that of son, and the purpose of the funeral was to celebrate the life of a father and husband first—perhaps even a friend—before the life of a former United States president.

I had a lunch date with a home health patient at the time the funeral was televised.  He was watching it, and my job was to watch him eat to make sure he was not having problems swallowing.  So, with a few sideways glances to lessen the feeling I was indeed staring at him—its my job, I, too, watched the funeral.

This man was almost as old as George H.W. Bush.  He, too, had lived a long and storied life.  Unlike George Bush Jr., though, he didn’t shed tears when his own father died, he told me in between bites.  When he was thirteen years old, his father died suddenly.

From that point in, he was taught, boys and men don’t cry.  A series of further tragedies befell his family.  Still, he reported, he never cried. I tried to hide my obvious tears as I, too, held my hand over my heart in a salute, just as they did on TV.  Unlike him, I wasn’t very good at not crying.

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The next day, George H.W. Bush’s body arrived in Houston by train for burial.  It was noted during the television coverage that the last president to be transported to his final resting place by train was Dwight D. Eisenhower, 49 years ago in 1969.  He was carried by train to his boyhood home in Abilene, Kansas, the very place I was at that moment.

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71-456-279 Funeral of Dwight David Eisenhower – Abilene, Kansas 2 April 1969 The funeral train arrives at the Union Pacific Station 2 April 1969

I tried to imagine this small town of less than 7,000 residents alight and alive with glory, respect and honor for their hometown boy; a meaningful, but sad parade of people from far and near.

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I was three years old in 1969, living two hours away from Abilene.  Now that I am aware enough,  I wish I had been old enough and close enough to Abilene to witness the history of Eisenhower’s burial.

Now, in 2018, this town still resonates with the spirit of the Eisenhower presidency.  I see it around town, especially when I visit or drive by his museum, which includes his final resting place in a small chapel.

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I wrote about Abilene in Someplace Special (September 10th, 2017). If you have never visited Abilene—and especially the Eisenhower museum, I highly recommend it.

 

 

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I recall a funeral procession I was part of in Wichita in 2006.  My aunt Jeanne—my mother’s sister—passed away, and her funeral was on the east side of town.  Her burial was on the far west side of town.  For a nominal fee, she was allowed a grand police escort on her final ride, with the procession cutting all the way through this city, stopping all traffic along the way.

And it was grand.  I wish you could have seen it.  I wish she could have seen such a procession while she was alive.  You see, she couldn’t see.  She was blinded at 18 months of age from retinal blastoma—cancer—in both retinas.  She never knew sight, but it didn’t stop her from leading a full and vibrant life.

Then, the day before our parents died, we were back in Wichita for our grandmother’s funeral.  Gail, Suzanne, several of our brothers and I were in one vehicle in her procession to the cemetery from the church.  In his signature dry, monotone comedic style, our brother Ryan posed this deep question: “If a funeral procession meets a fire truck or ambulance, who has the right of way?’

We laughed it off, knowing such humor was his gift to us.  We left the cemetery after the burial to go back to the church for a dinner, no longer in procession.  It was a large cemetery, and yet another funeral procession was headed to the cemetery as we left.  Then, as if he had sent out a freak vibe with that question, a fire truck headed swiftly toward the oncoming procession.

Apparently, urgency for the living supersedes respect for the dead.  The procession had to pull over.

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We paid loving respects to our grandmother, celebrating her 90-year, long and blessed life.  We had one day of reprieve after her funeral before we started planning another one.

Now, we are not a family to brag or gloat over our achievements, but we will hold fast to the honor of having received the most floral arrangements for any funeral ever in the lone church in our small hometown—95, if I got the number right.  Granted, it was a double funeral, but it was still one funeral, so we will argue that should the record ever come into question.

We had to find joy in whatever small ways we could.

In those four days between their deaths on Tuesday and the funeral on Saturday, we clung to each other; cried mostly, but laughed some, too.  We propped each other up and picked each other up, with grace and faith ensuring that a majority of at least four of us seven were relatively strong at any given moment to pick up the other three or less, both literally and figuratively.

The only good thing about the time between the deaths and the funeral was the fact that our actions were already prescribed.  We didn’t have to figure out what to do.  We simply mourned, made arrangements, accepted food, flowers and friendship, and waited.  We were in the socially expected shroud of mourning, and we did that well.

Still, knowing exactly what we had to do, the pain was unparalleled for all of us.  No one is prepared for such soul-searing pain, but I am glad we weren’t warned.  That would have been worse.  We loved them fiercely, just as they loved us.  We collected ourselves for Saturday morning, and even found ourselves comforting some of the mourners who had come to comfort us.  We were experts at comforting each other by this point, so we had it down.  We found strength to make it through the funeral.

Since then, we have all became stronger than we ever dreamed we could be.  They are still with us, and we celebrate them in our own ways now, every day of every month of every year.

Their funeral helped us do this.  There were tears, of course, but just like President Bush’s funeral, there were happy moments, too.

When George W. Bush eulogized his father, I felt his pain.  I recalled the eulogy we delivered for our parents.  All seven of us composed a written eulogy before the funeral, and Gail, Suzanne and I delivered it.  We agreed ahead of time that we would take turns reading, and if any of us were to become emotional and unable to read any further, we would simply step down, handing the baton to the next one, even if it were mid-sentence.

None of us faltered.    I suppose we were perceived as strong, at least at that moment.  I suppose we were strong, at that moment, anyway.  This isn’t to say that anyone who does falter while delivering a eulogy is not strong.  We simply were given grace and composure to get through this difficult moment.  We know where—or shall we say who—provided it for us.

At this moment, let me interject my expert advice on how to comfort the mourning.  I hate to brag, but we are sort of authorities on this subject:  It is not accurate to gauge how the bereaved are handling the loss by the way they are acting at the funeral.  The real test comes in the days, weeks and months—perhaps even years—after the funeral.  Trust us on this.  Trust me when I say that it is never too late to express condolences.  There is no statute of limitations.  For me, I found some of the most meaningful expressions of sympathy arriving not immediately, but after some time had passed.  It let me know that not everyone in the world had moved on, there were actually some people who knew that we were still suffering.

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Because funerals really are joyful celebrations sometimes cloaked in heaviness and sadness, it is important to keep a positive perspective regarding them.  Which is why I asked Gail for her contribution of funeral humor.  This is what she came up with:

A woman is sitting at her deceased husband’s funeral.  A man leans in to her and asks: “Do you mind if I say a word?”

“No, go right ahead,” the woman replies.

The man stands, clears his throat, says “Plethora,” and sits back down.

“Thanks,” the woman says. “That means ‘a lot.’”

Just before press time, I asked Suzanne for any large or small contribution to this post.  I wanted to keep it light, I told her.  And she is just the person to give me that.

Um, you are writing about five funerals, five funerals for six different people.  Good luck.”

I knew she would give “light.”

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We did cry a lot.  But more important than that, we found joy in those early days, even laughter.  Ryan, our dry-witted younger brother was 34 when Mom and Dad died.  Gail is his godmother, one of two adults appointed at baptism to be a spiritual leader to the child as he or she grows.  In earlier times, this meant also that they would be the guardian to the child should something happen to the parents.

At the wake the night before the funeral, Ryan was seated next to me.  He leaned in and whispered, “Does this mean I have to go live with Gail?”

As we greeted people arriving at the wake, our childhood dentist, who lived across the street from our parents then, arrived with his condolences.  He re-introduced himself to me very seriously, thinking perhaps I would have forgotten him.  I hadn’t; he was a good dentist and is a good man.

“Of course!” I said.  “I remember you.”  Then I flashed him a wide smile, and asked: “Do you remember these teeth?” 

“Yes, yes I do!  They still look great,” he replied.

Thank you,” I said.  “I floss every day.”

“I can tell,” he said, smiling as he walked away.

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To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”—William Shakespeare

It takes a strong man to lead a country, especially the United States.  I think George W. Bush’s tears as he bade farewell to his father were a sign of strength.  I cried with him at that moment, sweet-bitter tears for a life well-lived.  Sweet-bitter tears that recalled fond memories of my own father.  Tears of strength that keep me going through my life, reminding me of all I have to be thankful for.

And all I have to keep laughing about.

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