Find your own way to follow in their footsteps

September 21, 2018

The porch, which had been a warehouse of sorts for unused items thought to be too valuable to throw out, is nearly empty. A “might have use for it someday’’ attitude had spun out of control, which required dramatic action.

A few baseball and softball bats — remnants of youthful sports participation — remain in a corner. A plastic container holding dog food and an old broom used to sweep cobwebs are the bats’ closest neighbors.

To some extent, the house and its environs have been taken over by wildlife. Mice have found brief domestic bliss inside while chattering squirrels have turned the roof into a thoroughfare. The nut-gobbling creatures will pay a price for that this fall because squirrel coated with flour and egg tastes as fine as fried spring chicken.

A pair of work shoes — heavier than lead and tougher than a steak from a 10-year-old milk cow — remain on the steps leading to the front door. I have tried to get rid of them a few times without success. Son Sam wore them to college and took them to his first job in South Dakota. Much to my surprise they found their way back home.

They’ve been with me for 15 years and we’ve put on many miles together. Loyalty in that regard is something I share with my Father, who in the lessons he learned surviving the Great Depression practiced “waste not, want not’’ to its extreme. The pocketknife he used to cut twine string and plug tobacco — sharpened several times on the foot-powered stone — had been his constant companion. The straw hat with green visor had outlived its expected life expectancy by several years.

Work shoes served no meaningful purpose in summer when bare feet were the norm while walking through the cow yard and in the barn at milking time. Soles were toughened enough to withstand alfalfa stubble and nails embedded in loose boards.

However, even a barefoot boy needed shoes for church and school. A pair was expected to last for a calendar year unless growth outstripped their size. Mother had been given a pair of brown dress shoes that were several sizes too big for me. They were tied together and hung from the clothesline that ran near the furnace in the basement.

Someday, when I had grown to nearly man-size, they’d be mine. It seemed an impossibly long time in coming, but the shoes eventually fit and I took a big step toward manhood.

Dad took off his work shoes and kept them beside his favorite chair for the next morning. It had been a typical early September day. He had spent it raking third-crop hay, which was a thin crop because August had been dry. He had complained about shoulder and chest pains throughout the day. He went to the doctor by mid-afternoon. The doctor diagnosed that he was anxious and wrote a prescription to calm him down.

Dad avoided doctors because he considered treatments so much more expensive than just as reliable home remedies. Health science has grown by leaps and bounds since, which means Dad would likely be admitted to the hospital if diagnosed today.

His heart stopped at midnight. The ambulance crew said nothing more could be done. Mother lit the candles and set them on the dresser to guide his soul to heaven. I took his work shoes, tied their laces together and hung them on the basement clothes line.

It took a few weeks before I took his shoes down. The shoes were much too big for me. One must try to follow in another’s footsteps in their own way. It is a hard lesson learned only after a great deal of living.

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