Last week I read an online article about feet. I can’t remember where I read it, or from which website I was perusing. I was probably during one of those Interweb rabbit holes where I’ll start watching a YouTube video about bicycle repair, and two hours later I’m glued to a music video of Herman’s Hermit’s singing “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” wondering how I ever got there.
On this day the rabbit hole led me to all things feet. More specifically, bare feet. The piece touted the positive effects and beneficial outcomes of spending a substantial amount of time each day walking around barefooted. The author referenced some science and a few studies to back up the claim and it all seemed plausible. Who am I to doubt foot experts?
I once read a book by Wayne Dyer in which he stated the health benefits of walking barefooted on grass for 10 minutes before bedtime. He had findings and data to back his claim, too. But I didn’t need any of that. Walking barefooted on grass is something in which I have a lot of experience. Not much as of late, but I spent my childhood summers sans shoes.
Summers in South Mississippi are hot. In those days schools held their final day of the year before Memorial Day and didn’t reconvene until after Labor Day. My generation had three full months of summer vacation. Three very hot months of summer vacation. Three months in which I spent 90% of my time barefooted.
Those summers started out with May feet. May feet were soft and tender and made it difficult to even walk softly without shoes. By the end of the summer, we had August feet. August feet were hard and calloused. May feet had a hard time tiptoeing through Bermuda grass. August feet could run down a gravel road at full speed.
May feet would probably gain a lot of benefit from Dr. Dyer’s walking-in-grass-before-bed principle. August feet, hardened by weeks of exposure to aggregate driveways, rigged sidewalks, and hot August asphalt might not feel the first blade of grass.
There are periods in my youth when the only time I wore shoes in the summer was to go to church. I didn’t do it because a scientific study published in some random medical journal said it was the thing to do. I did it because I am a child of the South, and it was the thing to do. It’s what we all did. It may still be the thing to do. Though I am much older and much heavier, and I live in a constant state of May feet. At 61, I may even have February feet.
As a kid I also spent a lot of time walking around on grocery store feet. For some reason walking barefooted in grocery stores yielded much dirtier feet than walking down a dirt road. I wouldn’t let my kids go barefooted in a grocery store when they were young, but, in my day, it was a common occurrence.
One of the great surprises I have experienced at this stage of my life— I’m not sure when it started, but probably around the time I started receiving unsolicited letters from the AARP— is that my feet are one of my most important body parts. Feet never gained a second thought from me as a kid. Unless I stumped a toe, stepped on a nail, or cut my heel, I never cared much about anything below my knees. Shoes, no shoes, flip flops, support, no support, it didn’t matter. They were a vehicle to get me around and they did a fine job and I had other body parts that needed attention. These days I have way since passed the stage of style-over-substance in footwear, and I have become the old guy who doesn’t give a damn about what his shoes look like as long as they are comfortable, have lots of cushion, and offer substantial support. I haven’t started mall walking yet, but I feel the pull as it is beginning to make perfect sense.
Feet may be a strange topic for a weekly column such as this, but I guess that goes along with age. This column has been a weekly commitment for me for the past 24+ years. Over 1,000 words a week and I’ve never missed a week. I’ve never written about feet. But I’ve also never been on the cusp of 62 years on this planet.
Bare feet have their issues. In the mid-1960s I cut my foot on a broken mayonnaise jar that required several stitches. ThoughI don’t remember that injury ever being a hinderance. A boy came to our door one day, collecting money for charity or a school project and I saw my mom put a dollar in his jar. Being an entrepreneurial-minded five-year-old, I went straight to the pantry, grabbed an empty mayonnaise jar, and set out going door-to-door— barefooted, of course— raising money. There was no charity or school project. All I knew is that if I showed up at my neighbor’s doors with a jar there was a good chance they’d put money in it. They did. “Would you like to give me some money?” That’s all I had to say, and I ended up collecting a lot of money for a five-year-old in 1967. That is when karma kicked in.
On the way home with my beggings, I dropped the jar. It broke. In the mad scramble to collect the coins— and a few bills— I cut a large gash in the middle of my foot. After getting stitched up at the emergency room, my mother made me limp up and down the sidewalk, from neighbor to neighbor, returning all the ill-gotten gains. It was a good lesson on several levels, but it didn’t stop me from going barefooted for the next decade.
Kids today get somewhere around six weeks of summer vacation. There is a local school that started their “fall” semester last week. That’s mid-July. Their feet hadn’t fully moved from June feet to July fee yet. Kids today are missing out on August feet and grocery store feet.
Beginning today, I think I’ll start going barefoot more. I won’t walk barefooted in my yard before bed because it’s dark out there and there are two dogs who use that back lawn as their toilet, and one of them is over 100 pounds, and eats a lot. But maybe I’ll just be the old eccentric guy who walks around town barefooted, even in the grocery store.
My life’s goal these days is to die young— as late as possible. Maybe it’ll be even later if I ditch the shoes and live year-round with August feet.
1 Tbl bacon fat
2 oz ground beef
2 oz ground pork
1 bay leaves
1 Tbl poultry seasoning
1 tsp dry mustard
1 /2 cup diced onion
1 /4 cup diced celery
1 /4 cup diced bell pepper
2 tsp minced garlic
2 Tbl butter
1 cup rice
2 cups pork stock, hot
Brown the ground pork in the bacon fat.
Add veggies and seasoning and cook 10 minutes.
Stir in rice and hot stock, lower heat, cover and simmer 18 minutes.
Yield: 3 cups
(Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author who lives in Hattiesburg, Miss.)