The following is a chapter from AFFTON: Time Upon a Once. It’s presented in a PDF format to
make it easier to download and read in a serial form. The copyright protection afforded the book
attaches to this installment, which is provided for sole purpose of your personal entertainment and
is not to be altered, copied in any format, or distributed in any form without my expressed written
consent, which may be requested by writing to me at [email protected]
These warnings always sound like threats, and, I guess, to some extent, they are. However, this
one includes an invitation. I’m hoping reading my recollections prompts some of your own
childhood memories back to the surface. Please write your own vignette and send it along. If you
want my response or suggestions, let me know and I’ll send them along. Should I want to post your
effort on my website, I will first ask your permission and preserve your own potential copyright
interest in your submission. I look forward to hearing from you. – Lowell Forte
Cowboy Boots
In the breezeway, that open area between the house and detached
garage that some of our neighborhood homes had, I stood next to my
friend Gary. His dad was reading him the riot act for some infraction
so insignificant I cannot remember it. In fact I cannot remember what
his father said, yelled is more accurate, but Gary stood at attention, in
his shorts, his spindly legs quaking in his cowboy boots.
I distinctly remember arriving at two fundamental conclusions of
life right then and there. As Gary stammered his "yes sirs" and "no
sirs" to his father, I took and oath to myself that no one . . . ever . . .
would get me to say “yes sir” or “no sir” as a sign of weakness or
capitulation. Luckily I didn't get drafted into the Vietnam War and I
did not join because I was morally against what we were doing there.
Had I been drafted, I might be writing this from a cell in
Leavenworth where I would be doing life for fragging my CO were
he to have pulled the crap on me that Gary’s old man pulled on him
that day.
Don't get me wrong. I understood the need for discipline and the
chain of command, and they both existed in my house, but to me
soldiers and fathers were gentlemen first. That's how strongly that
incident between Gary and his ex-military old man impacted me. To
no other father in my life since have I ever applied that term—old
1 man. I consider the label now and certainly then as derogatory and
have mentally winced whenever someone would refer to their
parents as “my old man” or “my old lady.” This guy, this bully, this
father didn't have the decency to have such a disciplinary discussion
in the privacy of the family home. He chose instead to establish his
tough guy persona in front of one of his son's best friends. The only
expletives I knew then were "shit" and "damn,” and I had better
never get caught using them. But if I knew the list I know now, I
would have applied most of them to this guy.
From that point on I considered him a brute and gave him wide
berth and zero respect. After the encounter, I never mentioned it to
Gary. He was obviously embarrassed and ashamed, and we both
struggled to get back to normal, which we ultimately did. We were
The other fundamental conclusion I reached during that
encounter was considerably less important in the scheme of things,
but not by much to this observant kid—never wear cowboy boots
with shorts. The bad guys could see your knees knocking, and that
was something just not meant to be. I'm certain that the inventor of
cowboy boots never thought they would be worn except with long
pants. They were meant to slide into saddle stirrups and protect the
cowboy from snakebites when he was out of his saddle wrestling
some dogey to the ground, which required long pants. They were
meant to let little boys be real cowboys.
I was a nearly completely equipped cowboy. Hat, six shooters I
could tie down to my legs so my weapons wouldn’t flap around in a
shootout down at the OK Corral located in my backyard, a pair of
chaps I recall, and my Mom-manufactured horse—the fastest stallion
in the West, which also was geographically located in my backyard.
Its flat expanse made it a highly functional and extremely flexible
venue for my imagination that we populated with an array of
The one critical accouterment of cowboyhood I did not have,
however, was a pair of cowboy boots, like my friend Gary clomped
around in. I wanted a pair more than anything else in my life.
2 I could have saved Mom from a stampede of runaway longhorns
charging down Cloverhurst Drive and still not have earned sufficient
points to warrant a pair of cowboy boots as a reward. No amount of
begging or logical argument—that all the other kids had them—
would change her mind. They would pinch my toes and deform my
feet, she declared. She had read that in an article somewhere. That
was her mantra to support any argument she ever made to counter
ones I offered on an array of topics. Not yet being of reading age,
there was little chance I could challenge her non-specific authority,
and my reading sister had zero interest in helping me. There wasn’t a
lot of reading material in our house either. I recall no magazine
subscriptions, which raised my suspicion that Mom’s excuses were
fabrications. When Mom said she read about “it” in an article
somewhere meant any discussion of “it” was over. The door to her
mind had been slammed shut. Air couldn’t get past the seal. If there
was an article somewhere about the dangers of letting your child
wear cowboy boots, it must have included a few paragraphs on
sneakers—never got to wear them either.
It wasn’t that she disliked all things cowboy or had a particular
grudge against them—the real cowboys—wearing cowboy boots. She
had developed an unshakeable “podiatarial” prejudice against kids
wearing cowboy boots. I watched carefully all the cowboys on
television and at the movies—and these were big stars—and not once
found evidence that any of them appeared to have been crippled
from wearing cowboy boots. Gabby Hayes walked a little bowlegged
maybe, but he also talked through his nose in a voice muffled by his
whiskers. Reporting this to my mom did not shake her from her antiboot position specifically and cheap footwear generally.
Her position on cowboy boots might have had something to do
with the fact her sister, my Aunt Eva, worked for the International
Shoe Company in St. Louis, and she may have poisoned the well
about cowboy boots because her employer didn’t make them. That
was one of my suspicions, too.
All I could do on shopping trips to the Loop was drool over the
sneakers and cowboy boots displayed in shoe store windows. Were
there such a thing as a department of child services back then, I
3 would have turned my mother in for this mental abuse from failing
to fulfill this basic childhood need. There I was, stuck trying to be an
extraordinary cowboy while wearing ordinary shoes.
To give Mom some credit, she never shod my feet in cheap shoes,
but would purchase the best shoes she could afford. She made a trip
to the shoe store an arduous task. She would check the fit of a new
pair as if we were getting ready for an audience with the queen—
painfully squeezing my feet on the sides to the point of crushing
them and pushing down on the toes to assure there was sufficient
wiggle room for growth.
To assure a perfect fit, the shoe stores of the era had x-ray
machines. You'd climb up on it and slipped your feet into the
opening then peer into a viewer screen to see how well the faintly
outlined flesh of your skeleton feet fit inside a new pair of skeleton
shoes. My sister and I probably got a lifetime of irradiation on every
shoe-buying trip from playing with them.
Mom’s fastidiousness about shoes didn't win me over to be a fan
of footwear. My brother did that. He had come home for a visit from
boot camp where he and a group of his buddies—all of whom
dropped out of college—joined up to save the Koreans from the Red
Chinese. He brought home the shiniest pair of combat boots I had
ever seen. Actually, they were the only combat boots I had seen, up
to that point in time, but their black surface was a thing of beauty. He
taught me how to give them what he called a “spit shine.” I took to
the process like a fish to water and with great ardor. Before he
returned to Fort Leonard Wood or Camp Crowder, whichever it was,
I had put a shine on every pair of shoes in the house.
I even assembled my own shoeshine kit. Years later, if I had a
stopover at St. Louis’ Lambert Field, I’d always get a shine from the
boys in the hallway on the lower level. They were reputed to give the
best shoe shine in the country. Being an expert on such things, I
wanted to determine whether the reputation was justified. It was.
As a natural born observer, I began to notice how shoddily people
maintained their footwear. I realized that the better the leather, the
better a pair of shoes would take on a shine, and better leather meant
you had better shoes. On subsequent shoe buying forays, Mom
4 would focus on the fit. I would focus on the finish. We became a shoe
buying team. Together we were probably the terror of St. Louis shoe
salesmen. Still, I wanted a pair of cowboy boots, but even the
argument that they would extend the life span of my regular shoes
died on the vine. I was doomed to the life of a bootless cowboy.
In the process of wearing quality shoes, I developed a very
straight walking posture and took to observing how other people
walked. I was amazed how many of them would pronate their feet.
The worst walkers wore their heels on one side and shuffled away
the surface of their soles. I would outgrow my shoes. The other kids
in the neighborhood wore theirs out. Many of my shoes were
resurrected at the shoe repair shop up on Gravois, which became one
of my favorite places to visit for two reasons: the machinery and the
smells of leather, rubber, glue, and polish. With their help, I’d keep a
pair of shoes until I used up the last little bit of toe wiggle room.
As the waves of time have battered my body, my feet have
remained forever young. I have no misshaped toes, no bunions or
callouses, no painful deformities, and no discolored or abnormal
toenails. I'm not ashamed to slip into a pair of flip-flops and expose
my naked feet in public.
My father-in-law, who we called the Old Indian Guide, took me
up Long’s Peak, one of Colorado's "Fourteeners," (mountains higher
than 14,000 feet) in a pair of borrowed boots. After climbing to the
top and back down, I had acquired but one blister. I owed that result
in part to Mom’s podiatric diligence.
Ironically, the OIG was an orthopedic surgeon with strong
opinions about shoes that rivaled Mom’s. My young children wore
high-top shoes until age three to assure their ankles would develop
natural strength and they'd have good feet. No kiddie sneakers for
them, either. A few years back, on the way down to visit friends in Santa
Maria, California, we stopped in San Luis Obispo and visited the
Boot Barn where I purchased a pair of Texas-made Justin cowboy
boots—basic, traditional, black with a conservative amount of white
stitching, but a true boot heels and sharply pointed toes. Mom was
gone and I heard no rattle of thunder from the heavens as I made my
5 purchase. They're still like new. Look absolutely
great—with blue jeans. Take a wonderful shine.
But, they pinch my toes a little bit.