I wear wedge-soled boots. Yes, I know they are not necessarily attractive. If I tried really hard I could probably find the money for custom ostrich or elephant boots, but I wear plain leather, wedge-soled work boots. I have to buy a pair every two years or so, and I hate them when they are new, but not because the new ones are less comfortable. In fact, wedge-soled boots are the most comfortable the day you buy them, or a week or two later at most. The reason I hate the new ones is because they don’t look like his. I swell with pride from an oil stain or barbed wire gash. I wear blood spots like a military decoration of valor.
You see, he wore wedge-soled boots. Not to church, but nearly every other day. He left them by our back door when he came in. there they would be when I got off the bus, when he had come to get me. On rainy days they were caked with thick, red mud, in the Mississippi summer heat they would fill with dust and be streaked with sweat. He’d slip them on, grab my jacket, and off we would go.
I’m not sure if he knew I needed him. As a boy I longed to know how to clean out a fuel line or fix a bailer. I am not sure if he knew that what I was after, what I knew he could teach me, was far more important than the individual tasks to be done. It was how to be “like” the other boys in our small, rural town. I am not even positive if he liked my company, though I think he did, or maybe he was just that charitable, but I learned.
In the same way my father taught me to dig through reports until you had answers, or study till you could not be shaken from the truth you had proven to yourself, he taught me to work – hard, long, physical work. It is because of him that I rarely have to call a plumber or electrician. It is because of him that I feel at home in a parts house or hardware store. I ask for tools naturally, by their proper name, or by the nickname they are just called for one reason or another. I sing old country songs and role down the windows on “hay cutting weather” days, even though I have a working air conditioner and may never need to cut hay again. I’m not afraid to sweat, and I know how long I can run a chainsaw before I need to take a break. I know these things because he took the time to teach me.
He was the strongest man I ever knew. My own personal Clark Kent in a blue step-side Chevy, and my Hero wore wedge-soled boots. I never once pondered having a life without him. I knew my other loved ones would eventually succumb to one ailment or another, but it never occurred to me that he could be taken away.
I saw him there in the hospital bed the day the truck rolled over on him, and I half expected him to stand up, groan, and stretch like he just got up from his lunch and say, “Let’s get back to it.” I thought he would be there to help me when I started a family of my own. I thought he would always be there to guide both me and them.
Now, they just told me I am having a son, and there are so many things I thought he would help me teach the boy. I don’t know if I can remember what size socket takes off a spark plug if the spark plug socket is missing, or that trick to splitting the last two fence boards evenly so you don’t end up with a slender piece that will warp, or a million other things.
Oh well, I’ll just have to think real hard and try to remember some of all he taught me. What I really want to remember is the way he taught me. I want to be able to teach my son that way, and I know for sure where to start: by going to the back door and sliding on my wedge-soled boots.