But that’s another story.
It’s the wearing of boots in the song that I’m thinking about now. Growing up watching cowboy movies and reading western novels by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, Zane Grey, Luke Short and a host of other writers of that genre, I had wanted a pair of cowboy boots and a horse from the time I can remember.
I got a pair of old boots from one of my father’s truck drivers when I was 9 or 10. They were size eight, and I squeezed my feet into them until I needed another size larger. Never did get the horse.
My 75-year-old grandfather once rode a nice paint gelding 10 miles to give to me, saddle and all, at the time I got the boots. But my loving yet overprotective mother refused to let me keep the horse and insisted that my grandfather ride the horse the 10 miles back. My father wasn’t home, and later said he’d have let me keep him. Cell phone technology would have changed my whole world back then.
The boots stayed with me, though. Throughout life, I’ve always had a pair or two and have worn them everywhere—I don’t think I’ve ever “showed up in boots and ruined (anyone’s) black-tie affair.” Not that anyone ever said, anyway.
Oh, there have been many hoots and hollers, mostly in good spirits, about the fact that I wore cowboy boots or that I didn’t talk or sound the same way other teachers did.
When I was teaching in the Chicago suburbs, I’d clomp down the halls during my free periods and the classroom doors would be open, and one of my English teaching colleagues would hear me coming, and holler out, “Hey, hillbilly, come in here and let these students see your boots and hear you talk!”
“Now, Nancy,” I’d say to one of the main perpetrators who, herself, had a distinct South Side accent, “these here boots are quite comfortable an’ go better with these here Levis than anythin’ I could wear, an’ I just cain’t stand to wear them there Dockers an’ loafers an’ look like no city slicker.”
The kids would laugh and ask where I came from to sound like that.
“Well, I’m from Southern Illinoise,” I’d say with an exaggerated Southern twang. “My accent is an Upper Midland dialect, nothing like this old South Side Chicago accent you’ns have where you ask, ‘You wanna go with?’ and never finish the sentence with whom or where to let me know with whom I’m agoin’ with or where we’re agoin’.”
Another time, I arrived early to meet some friends in a New York City restaurant and was sitting at the bar, nursing a beer and minding my own business, but got into a casual conversation with some other people.
Finally, one of the women who’d been openly staring at my boots, Levis and the leather jacket I was wearing asked with a rather coy smirk, “You’re not from around here, are you?”
“No, ma’am, I ain’t,” I said. “I hail from back yonder in Illinoise an’ just come out here to the big city for a couple o’ days to see how the rest of you’ns live.”
So I’ve always had a good time wearing boots and talking as I do. Never bothered me none, nor kept me from finding a job that I ever knew about.
Then a few years ago, I took over a teaching job in the middle of the school year from a beautiful and popular woman of color and taught an African-American literature class among the assigned classes she’d been teaching, hoping to get hired on full time. The room full of minority students initially met me with hostile stares.
I’d replaced their favorite teacher—and I talked different and wore cowboy boots. It wasn’t long before we got on quite well, though, and the class became one of my favorite all-time classroom teaching experiences.
Despite that, I didn’t get the permanent position, and moved on.
Years later, I talked to one of the teachers who said he had lobbied for me to be hired and said the principal had agreed with him that I’d done an excellent job.
“You know why you didn’t get the job?” he asked.
Of course, I didn’t.
“The principal hesitated for a minute,” the teacher said, “looked away, then said, ‘He wears cowboy boots.’”