Fancy Cowboy Boots, Christmas presents, Dogs
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Although I still long to be a cowboy, as a kid I would have sold Satan my soul to be one. Often at night, while reading about the Wild West, I heard the Columbus & Greenville train rumble by and fantasized about hopping aboard like a hobo and riding to Texas to meet my Saturday movie matinee heroes — Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, John Wayne.
I dressed like my silver screen idols … blue jeans, big belt buckle, pearl-button shirt, bandanna, and ten-gallon hat, but I didn’t have what properly dressed cowboys consider absolutely essential: fancy boots.
Christmas was close, and since I was the least troublesome of Mama’s young’uns, I knew she’d give me the boots I wanted— genuine goatskin, high-heeled, two-tone brown-and-tan Justins, hand-engraved flowers on the sides, 18 inches tall, with holes in the top for pulling them on.
“Boy, boots’ll ruin yo’ feet,” she said, sliding a tray of cathead biscuits in the oven. “No time at all, you’ll walk like you got jakeleg.”
Several old town guys limped jakelegged, and Mama swore it was on account of they drank Prohibition whiskey distilled through car radiators.
“Santa’s bringing you sneakers,” she said.
Sneakers? Tenderfoots wear sneakers. When I whined that Gabby Hayes wore boots all his life and didn’t have jakeleg, she whirled from the stove and called me by my full name, her signal that a thrashing was imminent. I fled, yelling over my shoulder that cowboy boots do not cause jakeleg.
As always, Christmas took forever to come, but when it did, the Justins were under the tree, and I was the happiest twelve-year-old in the Mississippi Delta.
Later that day, my pals and I compared gifts. Everybody liked my boots, but Aubrey’s present, a genuine Wilson leather football, interested us most.
It was a crisp, sunshiny afternoon, and a game was soon in full swing. Cowboy boots are not designed for those who engage in the manly sport of football, but since Mama made us go barefoot all summer long, my feet were nickel-steak tough. I pulled the boots off and left them under a tree, not far from where Andy’s dog, Fleabag, was napping.
At dusk our parents came for us. “Put your boots on, boy — supper’s waitin’,” Mama said. Groping in the dark, I couldn’t find the Justins. Then I heard a contented munching sound … like a dog chewing on goatskin. Fleabag had gnawed his way down to one boot’s pull-on holes and was hard at work on the other!
Until I outgrew them, I wore those boots with my pants legs on the outside, although I hated not being able to tuck them in so the flowers would show.
I never forgave my pals for the awful nickname they gave me. At one of our recent high school reunions, I was asked to speak. Fleabag’s master, Andy, was emceeing, and even after all those years, no one had forgotten why he introduced me as “Chew Boots.”