I’ve written a few times on my blogs about going barefoot. Here are a couple lighthearted pieces from “Journeys Home.”
I like having at least a few times during the summer when I can go barefoot. Our previous neighborhood was a wonderful place to stroll shoeless. The relatively new sidewalks were smooth and warm. One neighbor often went barefoot when she walked her dog; she had on her work clothes but kicked off her shoes before taking her buddy out on his leash.
Sometimes, during road trips, I like to tiptoe shoeless into a crafts store or gift shop in a small town, or an antique store. I love these kinds of places, in little towns off the interstate, so much so that the scent of decorative candles and potpourri remind me of nice-weather drives. I stroll around the displays, and the hard wood floor or the durable carpet feels so nice if I’ve left my sandals kicked off in the car. It’s a silly thing to do but that’s the point: it’s humorous, a little bit self-mocking, and to me quite joyful.
Surprisingly perhaps, I nearly always get very warm service, and I always purchase something at such stores. During one road trip break, I stopped by a gift shop. and the cheerful clerk engaged me with stories of bouncing back from major surgery and meanwhile trying to run a business. The floor felt smooth and cool as I padded around the displays and chatted.
Taking another driving break, I stopped by a bookstore. A clerk greeted me warmly as I looked through a book and asked if I needed help. I said I hoped it was okay that I was barefooted and was told, “You’re fine!” I browsed for a while and ended up purchasing nearly $100 of books. The store’s carpet felt wonderful.
I recall tiptoeing into a corner pharmacy for some items, and I realized that the store was being renovated. Shelves were moved and some items were out of place. A person asked if I needed help, and I thought I might be “busted.” Instead, the person helped me find the items I needed—and amid the remodeling, he couldn’t find them either! My feet made that gentle sound upon the floor as we went up and down aisles and finally located my products.
Going barefoot was a kind of a post-hippy fad during the 70s and part of the 80s, when I was in my teens and twenties. Padding into a store without shoes on wasn’t an uncommon thing to do back then. Proceeding into the grocery store, for instance, was a nice respite on a hot day; you could run your errand and feel the cool floors beneath your feet. Strolling barefoot around our small town shops was a fun thing on a Saturday or a warm late afternoon following school.
Even in the 90s and 00s, I occasionally noticed someone going barefoot out-and-about. Perhaps, like me, they like to keep the fad going, on at least a few summerime occasions. A family inside our local Baskin-Robbins included a shoeless young woman who ate a sundae and rocked a stroller with her toes to soothe a fussy baby. I grimmaced a little when I saw another woman going barefoot in a baseball stadium. The floors were gritty and littered. But she had on her baseball cap and bright team shirt with her jeans and was ready, with free feet, to root for the home team with her little group.
You might be thinking, “Dusty feet are gross,” and actually I agree completely. After I’ve taken a neighborhood stroll, or otherwise been out shoeless, I can’t wait to get home and get clean. But from another perspective: it’s pleasant to enjoy the day as you gain peaceful tactile memories through your soles and interact with other folks in this humble way. The humorous, necessary result, so reminiscent of childhood, is a temporary footprint upon your own feet—-something you can laugh at yourself about and quickly wash away.
Years ago I visited a coastal town for a summer craft fair. My fisherman sandals lay on the floorboard, and I regretted not wearing a lighter pair. So I left them behind. With my touristy camera over my shoulder, I sighed with relief as I strolled the warm sidewalks. I spent a pleasant hour or so padding among the booths and shops, as barefooted as if I were collecting shells on the beach. A lighthearted thing to do, if a little risky, but what a nice summertime memory. I did see a few other folks shopping barefoot, affirming that I wasn’t the only eccentric.
Another community’s warm, artsy district announced a bohemian ambiance among its several stores of clothes, books, gifts, art, and jewelry. Remembering that coastal town a few years earlier, I decided to repeat the adventure. Wearing jeans and a knit or camp shirt, I felt happy and intrepid as I made my way from store to store, visiting any that seemed interesting, and I collected several purchases. The contrast of cool shop floors with the warm sidewalk felt delightful. One clerk inside a rock and jewelry shop gave me a strange look, but I did purchase a necklace. Another clerk, standing outside a clothes and accessories store, saw me pause at the window display and invited me inside! Joining shoppers in their sneakers and sandals, I found the day’s last treasure, a purse for my wife.
I read a book about the soprano Cecilia Bartoli, who is known for taking off her shoes and enjoying the grass and earth. “When I was a little child,” she said, “one of the things that gave me the greatest pleasure was to go to the park across the street and have my feet feel the earth and the blades of grass.” A friend and I decided to take a walk as we chatted so we drove over to her favorite park without our shoes on and strolled around: so peaceful!
In Ohio, a couple of favorite nature trails have grassy and dirty paths. I first took the trails in in walking shoes, so I knew the terrain and later felt okay about bringing no shoes or sandals. One of the trails alternated between pretty timber and open meadows, and included a few small hills to climb, plus the trail offered the comforting, nostalgic sight of an old barn as the path curved around and back into timber. A small bridge forded a stream that was sadly polluted, a shade of bright orange. But there was also a green pond where frogs croaked and turtles peaked above the surface. I watched my strolling toes, kept an eye out for stones on the trail, and on slopes I was aware of my toes digging into the soft earth for traction. On a stretch of damp soil I noticed behind me that my heels made small dents in the earth, a modest footprint on the land.
Back in the 1990s, when I was driving across southern Indiana on a day of light rain, I decided to visit the Lincoln Boyhood Cabins near Dale, IN. I’d been there once. Wearing a light windbreaker and summer shirt with old jeans, and sandals discarded on the floorboard, I wondered if I could visit the cabin barefooted. One way to find out, so I strolled up the damp mulch path. The interpreter, in period clothing, was interesting to talk to, and I knew some thing about Lincoln’s life to ask questions. We kept chatting as we went down the path. I felt lightheartedly pioneer-like having bare feet, which felt good in the light rain.
Unfortunately I had no big road trips this summer, the sidewalks in my new neighborhood are comparatively rough, and my ankle tendonitis was flaring up so I always took walks with supporting shoes. Maybe these times are over for me. But there is that famous piece wherein an old woman writes that if she could live her life over she’d start going barefooted earlier in the spring and stay that way till later in the fall. I enjoyed embracing that philosophy over the years and, who knows, between now and the end of Indian Summer there will still be nicely warm days for this kind of humorous walking.
No Shoes, No Problem
This summer has been so hot, and I’ve limited outdoor time to the cooler morning hours. I remembered a long-ago, perennially shoeless neighbor who grew up in Tucson and said the sidewalks were so hot, that she had to throw a towel on the sidewalk as she went barefoot. That made me laugh; you certainly couldn’t walk anywhere very quickly!
But that’s a cheerful thing to think about: deciding, as the day goes along, that staying barefoot is fine. It’s that moment when you think, “Should I slip back into my shoes?” but you think, “Oh, heck, why bother?” Many of us do like to putter around the house and yard shoeless. I like to rake leaves that way. The other day, I paused and chatted with a neighbor who worked shoeless in the yard, trimming plants and pulling weeds and tossing them temporarily onto the sidewalk. I said how much fun going barefoot is; my neighbor said she goes outdoors without shoes on to do something and then just continues that way with other yard chores. Wading for an hour or so in the tilled soil and mulch made gardening more enjoyable.
Once in a while, some of us like to feel “at home” beyond our yards. Shoeless walks, for instance, are so comfortable and relaxing (as long as I watch for pebbles and acorns on the sidewalk). Even a very short walk is delightful. “I’m always barefooted!” said an acquaintance when we were outside. The funny motions of the feet when you walk—the way the soles present themselves behind you, the pushing off of the toes and their emphatic landing—feel cool and light when you’re out and about barefoot in summertime.
One time a friend stopped by my dorm room and wanted to know if I wanted to go to the neighborhood market, an easy walking distance. I was ready for a break from studying and, glancing at my feet, I thought, “Oh, heck, I’ll just stay barefoot.” My friend and I had a nice early autumn saunter as we chatted about this and that, and the path to the store felt so good.
In one town where we lived, I often walked to the neighborhood market without my shoes. I watched my toes negotiate the various surfaces like sidewalks, grassy spaces, warm asphalt, and finally I enjoyed the chilly smoothness of the floor as I browsed for my items. The store owner was a joy to chat with—a nice friend at the time, we even talked about religion!—and praised me for my eccentricity. “I’m glad you go barefoot! I would, too, but customers give me dirty looks. But my feet are never anywhere close to the food, so what’s the problem?”
Places “where everyone knows your name” are precious, but it isn’t every day that you’re encouraged to be shoeless in public. I enjoy thinking of conversing with the owner as I stood by the checkout stand barefooted, as if I were standing at my kitchen counter. One day I stopped by the store in sandals, and the owner jokingly scolded me. I’d unintentionally denied her a cohort in escaping shoes for a while.
Forgoing shoes can be adventurous, because if plans change, you’ve committed yourself. I remember seeing two laughing friends in our savings and loan place. One had business but kept being sent to other offices. The friend, whose bare feet made hasty, gentle thuds upon the tile floors, was along for company but hadn’t expected the errand to be so complicated. During another summer, I decided shoes were unnecessary just to get an ice cream cone. I was the only unshod customer, but the line moved slowly, and the pavement was hot. I kept shifting as if I were practicing dance positions.
Back in the 1980s, I taught a history discussion section of a large lecture course. Such classes are scheduled in any available space, and this one happened to meet in a chemistry classroom. Signs warned students to wash their hands and keep their shoes on because of the chemicals. That didn’t deter one of my students, however, who came to class without her shoes on, every class period, well into autumn. She wasn’t bold and outgoing, but rather shy and quiet, crossing her ankles beneath the chair. I hope she doesn’t glow in the dark because of the chemicals, or turned into a super hero.
When my daughter was little, sometimes I wore no sandals (or had them off but nearby) when I took her to friends’ houses or to summer camp. I chuckled when a parent of one of her buddies wore no shoes when she drove Emily back home at the end of an afternoon. “Great minds.” One afternoon, I was working around the house when the time came to retrieve my daughter from “zoo camp.” I assumed she would be tired and we’d return home, so I passed on my flip flops. But, not in the least tired, she wanted to visit the zoo gift shop. As it turned out, bare feet provided agility for negotiating a crowd of parents and kids among displays of toys, books and plush animals as I kept up with a small, laughing daughter on the move. I did miss the humor of being barefooted in a jungle-theme place.
Going barefoot used to be a fad, and running errands without shoes was, though not an everyday occurrence, something you’d notice—or do. Leaving our local IGA, I saw an acquaintance heading into the store. She was dressed in her cool top and jeans and carried her purse, but her feet were bare. I assumed she had one of those pleasant “oh, heck” moments when she was already shoeless at home and decided to just stay that way for other tasks, in this case, a trip to the grocery.
When you’re shoeless while wearing a nice casual outfit, the contrast is another quirky thing about deciding, as the day goes along, that staying barefoot is fine. There is a photo online of Jackie Onassis shopping in Italy in stylist summer clothes, but no shoes. I chuckled when a classmate left the dorm for an autumn class, ready for the day in bare feet, warm clothes, down vest, and books and coffee mug in hand. I did that kind of thing, too; heading to the little market, for instance, I’d put on my old straight-legged jeans and camp or knit shirt and, if the day was chilly, a zip-up hoodie, and enjoy a good walk.
Back in the 80s, I noticed a little family in the grocery store. The father was barefoot and wearing linen slacks and shirt that you sometimes see folks wear to the beach on a chillier day. The rest of the family wore shoes. Over the years, whenever I’ve noticed a barefooted parent accompanying children with their shoes on, I jokingly wonder if the parent fussed and begged to stay barefoot until the kids say, “Okay, but just this once, and be careful!”
After the 100+ weather last week, cooler temperatures finally arrived. What a treat that the sidewalks and driveway weren’t so hot to the touch for bare feet and I could spend a time shoeless. Devoting a morning to house and yard work, I hauled old boxes from the basement (we just moved), I carried some stuff to the garage, and loaded the car with a few things for Goodwill, then I got the trash and recycling to the curb for morning pick up. Working in the garage is kind of gross, because one’s soles soon become unpresentable. At one point in my mighty labors, another neighbor stopped to chat. Once those chores were done, I decided I’d move to the porch and work on the laptop. After writing a while, I took a break and ambled down the street, still holding my laptop. I happened into the neighbor I mentioned at the first, also taking a walk. I chuckled that she’d caught me barefooted, she said that was okay because I caught her barefoot that other morning!
Aged seven or eight, I went to the park a half-block away, and I didn’t realize I was shoeless until I stepped on some thistles. In childhood, you go about your day’s pleasures and not think about shoes unless your parents insist on it. We adults don’t set out with the goal of a fun day, forgetful of our unprotected feet until we’re out and about and something reminds us. It did happen to me another time, when my family and I were staying at a lodge and relaxing in the characterful great room, with a nice adjoining gift shop and coffee bar. The next morning, I couldn’t find my flip flops in our room and realized I’d kicked them off downstairs the evening before as we drank coffee and then shopped. If you like to, going barefoot is a pleasant return to childhood and, once in a while, you feel so comfortable with nothing on your feet that you’re okay with not putting shoes back on, or even better, you relax and forget.
Out and About Barefoot
The past few years, I’ve had an end-of-summer-post about going barefoot. I like having at least a few times during the summer when I’m out and about without my shoes on. Often, these are neighborhood walks. In our previous neighborhood, for instance, the relatively new sidewalks were smooth and warm. I loved to set out on a nice day for a stroll. A few neighbors were similarly inclined, like the neighbor who liked to kick off her shoes before walking her beagle.
A few years ago I found a website about how to cheer up when you’re blue, and among bits of advice, the website encouraged “taking humor risks.” “When you are stuck in your own thoughts, do something just a little wild to get out of it. And do the same thing to help a friend who needs a good laugh.” (http://www.beliefnet.com/Inspiration/2009/03/Cheer-Up-and-Laugh-Out-Loud.aspx?awid=5551460903877276033-1820) That’s a good way to think about my occasional forays without shoes. Even if I’m not so blue, it’s a cheerfully foolish little thing to do that can get me out of the doldrums, or add some humor to whatever I’m doing.
Sometimes, during a road trips, I like to tiptoe shoeless into a crafts store or gift shop in a small town. My sandals are kicked off in the car and I feel reluctant to put them back on. Surprisingly perhaps, I nearly always get very warm service, and I always purchase something at such stores. This summer I found something I’d misplaced, a plaque with a picture of John Wayne and a saying, “Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” I had stopped in a small town to take a break from a long drive, and decided to stroll among the antique malls without my shoes. Browsing in one nice shop (where the AC seemed to be underfunctioning, so I was glad I stayed cool), I noticed the plaque at my feet. I bought it and later did an internet search about the quotation. Apparently Wayne never said that in any of his movies, but it’s still an apt quotation: a simple reminder to not let our fears get the better of us.
I thought of the quotation again this summer as I was deeply worried about something (a symptom that turned out to be nothing). This summer, as the family chilled out, I decided to take a walk to the shops of the popular mountain town where we were staying. Using my worry as a reason (as if I ever needed one) to cheer myself with a shoeless walk, I kicked off my flip-flops and loved the feeling of the warm sidewalk as I padded down the way. Stopping at some shops, I found items for myself and for gifts. One clerk approvingly said she took off her shoes off in the store but her feet still gets dirty from people traipsing in from the street all day.
Another cheerful thing about going barefoot, is that you discover other people who also like to, the way you discover someone else with a common interest, for instance someone who likes Monty Python and can recite humorous lines from the Holy Grail movie. Something I haven’t done for a long time, but will have to think about for next summer, is to undertake a project that doesn’t require shoes. Forty years ago this summer, for instance, I copied the inscriptions in our family cemetery, and for a summer morning spent wading in the grass, I figured shoes were unnecessary. Sometimes during student days, I’d tiptoe to the library with my sandals in my book bag and do research; my feet felt wonderful and I was highly productive.
My wife Beth and I have done household projects (like wallpapering a bathroom, oy) for which I skipped putting shoes on because I needed to stay cheerful for difficult work. I may jumpstart my old interest in rural landscape photography and devote some days barefoot.