When I first started shaving, I wanted those new boots—the ebony leather ones that had the shiny buckles on the side. They screamed to the world, “The guy wearing these boots knows where he’s going.” Nineteen thousand shaves later, I now wear another style of footwear. Younger folks sneer and call my shoes “ole man shoes.” But I like my shoes. They’re plenty wide and they fit me fine. The perforations make them wonderfully cool and comfortable. My toes have room to roam and suck in long deep breaths if they so choose. Not like those drum-tight dark engineer boots I wore as a know-it-all adolescent. Young folks never change. They show no one respect. But middle-aged people nowadays are little different. When I drive ahead of them, they tailgate me, honk their horn and make hand gestures at me. Even when I’m just talking to them or simply walking around loafing, their body language says to me, “Hey old man—you, with the fallen chest and baggy-ass pants, and serrated shoes—you’re impeding my progress. Why don’t you park it somewhere else?” I don’t understand their impatience and their surly attitude. Maybe when they see me they’re thinking to themselves, “Oh, Lord, someday I too will be just like him, an old brown leaf blowing over the hill.” Or, could it be something as simple as tight-fitting shoes gnawing at their feet? Guess maybe I did move a little faster when I wore a young man’s shoes. But, what do these younger folks know about life? I’ve been here a while and I know a thing or two that they don’t. When they were still soiling their diapers, I was a respected man at the top of his game. Damn them! They can just take a ticket and move to the back of the entry line to life—same place I started when I was young and dumb like them. I know I got a few miles on me, but I ain’t ready for the junkyard, yet. Got some dents and dings in my fenders and my replaced joints don’t work like the doctors said they would. And going zero-to-60 in three seconds? Forget that foolishness! Never did. Never will. But, I still got gas in my tank and unchecked boxes on my bucket list. Think I’ll stretch my toes before I mosey on. These wide shoes are so liberating. Once, I too had lots of places to be. I had things to get done and no time to waste. Today, the most frequent place I have to be is the doctor’s office or a funeral. I swear it seems like some of my friends have been buried twice and I’ve attended both their ceremonies. I guess it’s just a senior citizen thing, maybe the meds, but it’s hard to remain clear-headed and relevant when your circle of friends keeps shrinking. Yesterday I was a very relevant person, but now, not so much. I’m only significant to my grandkids. People looked up to me back then. I was an energy manager who managed a huge company’s annual $1.7 million energy budget. But, now … now, the most challenging thing I try to manage is the laundry and my sock and underwear drawer. Dang, I do so like these loose-fitting shoes! They’re a blessing from Heaven. But, you know, my greatest blessing today is my grandbabies. I love watching them grow. Odd, but I loved seeing each one cry as toddlers and then get over it. A real delight was seeing one discover her toes for the first time. With head bobbing and eyes wide and bright, she joyfully laughed out loud about her finding. When born, they were fitted with booties. The fit was loose and cottony and comfortable on the feet. A lot like my ole man shoes.
From SIT A SPELL: AN ANTHOLOGY, Joe Cobb Crawford The Poetry Company