When I was young, one of the best pleasures for me was getting to go barefooted. Soon as I heard the June bugs and lightning bugs beating against the screens of our old house, I knew that spring had turned into summer. Still cool night but warmer days meant that I could shed my shoes without Dad telling me I was going to catch a cold. Mother would buy me a pair of flip flops and unless I was on my way to Sunday School or my feet toughened up, they were my sole concession towards a summer barefoot existence.
Of course, there was a bit of suffering you had to do with flipflops.
I always counted it a good hurt between my big toe and the next one as my winter soft feet got used to that little piece of rubber between them and if that was the right of passage one had to endure, barefooted summer was worth it to me.
It wasn’t long before long before my feet toughened to the barefooted jumping rope or playing hopscotch or building rock-outlined houses in the woods and the flip flops were off more than on.
There was one summer long exception.
When the little flat sticker burrs on the sticker weeds that covered our yard hardened enough for their spines to go through my feet, I always put the flip flops back on for yard navigation. I never learned another solution, certainly never mastered the agility or developed the sharp eyes to pick a path, to successfully avoid them.
I swear, there is nothing that hurts quite so sharply as those tiny little spines.
Nothing good about that hurt. Once lodged, you have no other options but to stop immediately, try and hold your foot up, stork like, and pick the thing out hoping by the time you get across the yard you don’t have to stop again.
But, as life goes, there are almost always good things at the end of a hard road and for me it was the woods. There was a field behind our house that led to oak dotted woods, the destination for most of the neighborhood children, and almost as soon as summer started, several paths through chin high weeds disappeared into the cooler, shade of the old trees. Underneath them, worms and beetles and sugar ants had worked their magic and turned leaves and forest litter into fine, soft dirt. While we gathered sticks and stones to make houses and clubs, soft, bright green shocks of moss fascinated me. I would try my hand at transplanting them to the floor of my woodland home, always a bit disappointed to come the next day and find them turning brown. I was to find out though, that several summers experience, truly, as soft as moss looked, nothing compared to the soft, brown, fine old dirt, that once you brushed the leaf litter away, was there to cover the floor f make believe homes.
Working at the farm the other day, just me and mother, I had taken off my shoes while working in the house. Not thinking, I headed out the back door for the barn for a tool I thought I remember seeing out there. I hopped along the poison ivy trying to side step the oil it was surely spewing about, stubbed my toe on a protruding yaupon root, and limped on both feet to the barn door trying to avoid prickly pinecones.
About the time I was thinking, “how did I ever have feet tough enough to go barefooted almost anywhere,” I felt the soft cool barn dirt under my feet.
Standing still, I could feel the fine grains giving way to mold around my feet, and still surprised out how cool the ground felt, I stepped out on one foot and looked behind me. There in the dirt, cast in relief and dappled with sun light through pines, was my footprint. Where the fleshy parts of my foot left a deeper impression, the soft silted dirt had filled in the fine lines of my sole and in between where my toes had been. I must have tried to sweep a million of those away in my little dirt houses in the woods. I stood there for a minute. I guess there were little nematodes and screwworms and probably a few billion bacteria in that dirt, but there certainly was also just pure, simple pleasure as I stood in the doorway of that old barn, listening to my ferruginous hawk screech at the cawing crows and me in there, wiggling my toes, enjoying the dirt and the barefootedness of it all.
I stood there letting the coolness of shaded, old dirt soothe my old feet and I thought about how sweet those memories of child hood were to me. For a minute, I thought about being that young again, where make believe houses and dreams and barefoot summers are the moment you live in. I don’t want to go back but I am glad I’ve been there.
God can deliver and remind us of simple joy in the most imaginative packages.
Quote for the day; We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it. ~George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860
Bible verse of the day: I Cor. 13:11-13 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.