One of my loyal blog readers wrote to me to ask,
1. What individuals inspired you to wear boots? 2. What was the defining moment that made you decide that you were going to wear boots everyday from here on out?
Those are great questions. Some of you may be surprised to read about my boot influencers…
As I say on the opening page of my website, I lived on a ranch with my Mom and family in rural Southeastern Oklahoma during my first 10 years of life. My Dad was a Diplomat and worked in Europe for six months each year, so since he could not take us with him, we lived with my Mom’s family where she had more help with our large brood.
We lived on a working horse ranch. They raised and bred horses — mostly for the small farms in the geographic region, but a few for the horse racing industry. I grew up with and around horses, and by age 8, had a horse I called my own. Maggie (my horse) and I would ride on many adventures around the ranch and surrounding green hills of Southeastern Oklahoma. We explored the environment, collected rocks and fossils, and learned about my Native American ancestors as we rode on “Indian Lands.”
Maggie had built-in GPS; we never got lost. When I was tired or the sun was about to set and Mom would want us home for supper, I would say, “let’s go home, Maggie,” and she would cantor or gallop straight home — through woods and streams — whatever was the most direct route. It was quite common, especially in summers, that I would arrive soaking wet and covered with mud from those rides.
What does a horse rider wear on his feet? Well, boots of course. I’m sure that I had been wearing boots since I was knee-high to a toadstoll, but I don’t really remember much about the boots I wore when I rode Maggie at the ranch.
I cannot say that there were any particular individuals who influenced me as a child to wear boots. Boots were just what people wore when they rode horses and lived in rural America. Nothing more, nothing less. Frankly, I don’t remember wearing shoes when in Oklahoma, except when required to attend Sunday School and church with my grandmother who was a very devout Southern Methodist. (Aside: my grandmother was full-blood Choctaw. Her husband was a Methodist Missionary and converted his wife to the religion when he came to Oklahoma to “save the heathens.”)
When my family returned “back East” in December each year to live in Maryland when my Dad returned-to-station in Washington, DC, I remember wearing those dorky leather shoes that parents bought their kids to wear. I was a child of the 1960s, and that’s what kids wore. “Tennis shoes” (nowadays called sneakers) did not become popular for kids’ footwear until the ’70s.
One day when I was 10, I remember my mother bringing me to a shoe store to get a new pair of shoes to wear at a sister’s wedding. While looking at the racks of boy’s shoes on display, I saw for the first time (in the East) a pair of boots on display. They were Fryes. It was the late ’60s, and Frye boots were emerging to become popular footwear for young men (teens, hippies, whatever you want to call them.)
I was captivated by those Fryes. I can’t quite remember what style they were, but were probably campus boots.
My Mom “tush-tushed” about those boots and made me get another pair of shoes. I hated them more and more — so much so that I wore my “Oklahoma boots” to my sister’s wedding.
I kept gawking at those Fryes in the shoe store window each time I passed by. In fact, one day a clerk in the store who knew me asked me if I wanted to try on a pair. However, I was still a 10-year old kid who still wore “boys size” shoes. They did not make Fryes in Boy’s sizes. The clerk could not find a pair that would fit me.
That summer when I returned to Oklahoma, Mom did not think a thing of bringing me to a Western store “in town” and getting me fitted for another pair of boots to wear at the ranch. By then, they were making boots that could be considered to be “less ranchy” and more suitable for streetwear. I was fitted for my first pair of Tony Lama boots. They were all leather and plain brown, but they had that “fancy toe bug” (stitching) that said “these are real cowboy boots!”
I wore those boots every day everywhere — while riding Maggie, going to school, and doing chores. I never took those boots off (except to sleep). I even wore those boots to church and was surprised and happy that no one said a thing.
When I returned to Maryland that winter, I insisted on bringing those Tony Lamas home with me and I wore them to school. Yes, I did receive a lot of kidding from my classmates. “Where’s your horse?” or “howdy Tex!” (and I would retort, “I’m an Okie, not a Tex!”) But I also noticed a tinge of envy on the faces of the boys in my class.
Mom gave up trying to make me wear shoes. A Bootman was born. That was it! I never wore shoes again.
By age 12, my feet had grown into wearing Men’s sizes, and I saved up my money from lawn-mowing jobs and bought my first and second pair of Frye boots in the summer of my 12th year — $20/pair for a pair of “banana” campus boots and a pair of brown harness boots. I wore those Fryes all the time, and they never hurt my feet. (Ahh, youthful feet flexibility).
Also by then, my father had died, so we remained in Maryland. We returned to Oklahoma for family visits for a few weeks in summer and again in early winter for Christmas, but my days of riding long lazy exploration rides in Kiamichi Country on Maggie were over. Maggie and I remained buddies for her entire 23 years of horsy life, and I always have a special place in my heart for her. I was her “little man” and she was my soulmate. She understood me better than most humans.
I liked that wearing boots made me distinctly different from the clones of my teenage years (1970s). Other guys watched closely what other guys wore. “Chucks” became an overnight sensation. But I didn’t like high-top sneakers. I liked boots. So while my friends wore the latest fashion trend, I continued to wear my boots. And not just Fryes, but more Tony Lamas, Justins, and Noconas, that I would buy with every return visit to Oklahoma. I became the “cowboy of the East” with all those boots.
I did not begin riding a motorcycle until my early 20s, and by then, it was not a problem at all to add pairs of motorcycle boots to my growing collection of boots.
I hope this answers my blog reader’s question about who and what influenced me to wear boots.
Life is short: appreciate your heritage and be your own man: wear boots!