Boots: A Love Story

“A hoarder is someone with an unusual ability to see beauty in the ordinary.” I heard Malcolm Gladwell say that during a harvest, and had to pause and write it down (the Dragon Psychology 101 episode, which aired at the midpoint of 2020).

Exactly two years and twenty days ago, I rescued these ancient Red Wing boots from the trash. The sound of the garbage truck trundling down the alley produced a pang of regret, so I pulled them from atop a frozen bag of excrement at the last possible moment:

Reunion with these works of art wrought rhapsodic joy. A rabbit hole opened. I dove way down, even though I knew it didn’t make much sense. Every drop of value had been squeezed from them already, or so I thought.

I set them in the sun, and admired them. My adoration, combined with the angling sun’s illumination, bordered on the beatific. I shot several photos. Perhaps that would be enough to say goodbye. Sensing more, however, I kept going.

After researching the tag, I learned these were handmade in the 1960s, causing me to well up in gratitude for a cow that gave everything. It likely grazed beneath a hot sun at the tail end of the Eisenhower Administration.

Those boots, along with my canvas painter whites, comprised a dynamic duo that came into my hands way back near the turn of the Millennium.

Tape held the rear-end together, for the sake of painting the house with them one last time. These two pieces of clothing comprised The Uniform, which sat in suspended animation for some years prior to losing my last job in 2014. Pressing this ragged attire back into service was like slipping into a superhero’s suit. A painter’s attitude, knowledge, and confidence flooded back into me. The Uniform made me feel competent and skilled. I had something to offer, however humble, of real value. This was maybe a week after getting sacked. That cow’s hide helped support my family when we needed it most.

Reflecting on this, after rescuing the boots from the garbage bin and still overflowing with gladness after our impromptu photo shoot, I sensed there was more. I continued down this absurd rabbit hole.

And that’s when I finally got started on the book that’ll be released early next year. Right then and there on that very day. Prior to this experience, I found myself grasping at a subject too slippery. A notebook was filled with incoherent scribblings about money, but our journey out of Cubicle Land is about far more than figuring out how to sustainably source U.S. dollars.

The boots helped save the day once again, nudging me back on track. Virtually anything that produces this kind of irrational joy, a deep satisfaction with roots reaching into your soul, is worth pursuing down the rabbit hole and indulging. I only learned this in midlife. Learning to indulge personal eccentricities, rather than stifling them, has been key toward building our current lifestyle. Something that might seem foolish to all onlookers, can prove critical in the journey of building a life that works for you.

As for me, not only did reveling over these boots — faithful servants to generations — result in my nearly completed second book, they kept me on a path that I nearly abandoned. Tired of earning poverty wages, I went out into the concrete jungle in search of another job. Thank goodness this search, immediately prior to the pandemic, wasn’t successful. Writing the book, in tandem with growing, has been a source of great joy. We took the plunge in building the sunroom addition for the microgreens, and for the first time ever, I no longer wonder what I’m supposed to do with my life.

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