When I was young, the mark of summer was going without shoes. I loved those days. As cool nights gave way to hotter days, there came a point in spring when the warm mastered the cool, and Mother would answer yes to my ‘can I go barefoot now’ questions.
If you timed it wrong, you got a sore throat. For real. I pushed that envelope a number of times and you can be certain sore throats follow shoeless activity if you live in a latitude where the ground’s been cold long enough in a cold winter that the soil needs a certain amount of sun hours to get warm. Not sure how cold feet equals sore throat. Whatever. Sometimes things are weird, but true.
There is no denying barefooting was a repeated right of passage. Into the carefree activities specific to kids and summer. It heralded June bugs which I thought annoying and kind of prickly in an uncomfortable way if they got on your neck and lightening bugs with their blinking butts of bioluminescence.
I mean what girl doesn’t look forward to the barefooted nights where capturing emerging fireflies, one can time the ripping of their momentary glowing abdomens from their mate seeking beetle self to use as a glowing ”diamond’ on her young finger. (A few short decades later molecular biologists would do something similar to get at the exact recipe of luciferase enyzme, mixing it with magnesium and oxygen and in discovering the fireflies genes for the luciferease, insert those genes in all sorts of things to make molecules light up in the lab at just the right time.)
You never know where life is going to take you. Or go.
The reason I liked barefooting was very simple. It felt good. It felt good to not have your feet encased in sweaty, hard shoes that if you wore sock less were likely to cause blisters or at least rub your feet all in the wrong places. (For some reason the need for socks with shoes was not something that I bought into, although I do know enough now to realize the logic behind the pairing.) The other option you had for footwear was flipflops, the place between your big toe and the next one needing about 4 days of soreness to get use to the hard rubber. I favored those too.
I still like the idea of barefooting, except something has drastically changed.
I can hardly do it.
Sure, I flipflop year round because I reside on the Gulf Coast and that good ache between my toes for sporting new ones hasn’t been part of my yearly ritual in decades. (Maybe the materials of shoes are much more amenable to soft feet or the year round wear has made mine impenetrable to that particular issue.) However, going completely commando with regards to footwear is another matter all together.
Heck I used to walk like a miracle on water across the expansive patches of stickers (Soliva sessilis, as it’s known in botanical circles) in our Arkansas backyard. By the end of the summer, I could get across the dried ones mostly unpenetrated.
Now I can’t even walk across heavily skreeded concrete in my barefeet, forget a rocky road or asphalt.
At first I didn’t know what happened.
My first thought was I’m decades older and maybe one gets soft in their oldness and perhaps to counter, I should persevere. Even if I don’t want to.
But just like no one mentions that fireflies don’t’ seem to be as abundant as they used to be and our ever expanding knowledge that soil, is well dirt, with burrowing nematodes that have spent evolutionary time circumventing your immune system living relatively nice lives without your knowledge of their existence in your various organs, something else has taken the place of my generation’s heralding of summer. And quite possibly several generations younger than mine.
I think the annual right of passage changed, from the joy of toughness of barefooting and running in the woods and across bees and stickers to the allure of give-me-the-$35-hot-stone-wax-full-treatment yes-my-toes-look-sexy-in-red spa pedi it’s-summer-and-I’m-showing-off-my-feet!
If naked feet caressed by warm soil felt good, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the ministrations involved in pedis is hard to beat.
And here in the south, we southern girls get them year round. Similar to the frequency with which we keep our legs shorn. And our pits. (I am not expounding on any other geographical female hygiene habits. This is strictly an observation from south of the Mason Dixon line. Way south. When you tend to wear less clothes year round, different opinions on beauty become public expectations).
Not only has this activity altered the way we toughen our soles, I’m guessing it’s also set up a new biological paradigm. Its just a matter of time for the rampant fungal exchange between toes mixed in every hot plastic spa and the accompanying utensils with bits from everyone previous to you’s toe jam on them starts to set up shop. (Yes, I know, your spa opens fresh new packages. Uh huh). I’s a grand experiment possibly rivaled in scope only by the extravagant use of antibacterial soaps, hand cleaner, and well everything you think you should be disinfecting with antibacterials. (In case you missed that, DON”T USE ANTIBACTERIAL SOAP FOR ROUTINE CLEANING).
Never fear. As I mentioned, biology is amazing. At least with regards to pedis, your body is actively mounting a defense, evolving to handle the fungal assault. Just like it did with all those little soil critters.
But, war is always ugly though. Remember that.
The moral of this story? Things change. Sometimes for the good, sometimes not.
But for certain, be ready to be surprised when your mind is open.