Nancy Sinatra boldly proclaimed the purpose of her boots in her song back in 1966, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.’” A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stated that when you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure an adventure is going to happen.
Growing up on our South Dakota farm, we often stepped into boots to get ready for the day’s adventures--or the day’s weather.
On frigid winter days when snow covered the yards, the men tugged on five-buckle overshoes. A soft coating on the inside helped insulate, adding another layer of warmth. The clasps secured the boot tightly around overall legs, keeping out snow and cold. Spring meant mud in the livestock yards. Overshoes slumped deep into the muck but usually kept shoes or boots dry.
Even in summer, chores required stepping into smelly stuff no one wanted covering their shoes. Two-buckle “rubbers” fit the bill, fitting snuggly over farmer work boots. Work done, the guys scraped off overshoes on the boot scraper, a metal blade that protruded from the edge of the sidewalk by the house.
When the day’s adventure included mud puddles or winter cold, we all wore overshoes, even to school. Under the coats that hung on hooks in the back of the schoolroom, boys’ and girls’ footwear lined the floor, ready for recess.
The overshoes were made of rubber. Ultimately, holes or cuts happened, and the shoes inside got wet. Bread bags provided perfect protection and helped the boots last another year. We stepped first into the bag, then pushed our plastic-covered shoes into the overshoes. No one minded if bread bags peeked over our boot tops.
Everyday work boots are critical for a farmer; feet need protection from falling tools and moving machinery, as well as the elements. Not only that, they need to last forever. Delmer remembers the day our father took him to Schmidt’s Shoe store in De Smet to get his first pair of work boots. His eyes shined as he tried on the brown leather Red Wings, just like Dad’s. When they got home, Delmer proudly carried the big box with the red feathery wing on top to his room. He put on the boots. Like a Coming of Age ceremony, the young boy suddenly felt like a true farmer, ready to take on the work just like Dad and Don.
Sometimes in life we try and step into big boots before we are ready. When I was five, I had a pair of red overshoes. Winter or summer, I pulled them over my shoes and socks whenever I could not run barefoot outside. One rainy spring day, I was scooting through the yard trying to catch the newest feral cat. Dad looked out from under the corn planter in the Quonset and called, “DeAnn, go check and see if the cows have come up from the grove.”
Behind the granary stood a tall wooden post from which we could see far out into the pasture. I hurried through the yard next to the house. Suddenly, I looked down at my red boots. I loved my little red boots. Last time I had climbed the looking post, I sank into mud almost up to the red buttons. Buttons held elastic loops that secured the top fold of the overshoes tightly around my legs. It was no fun washing the smelly muck off the red boots.
I peeked into the porch and saw Mom’s four-buckle overshoes sitting on newspaper. Mom wouldn’t care if I wore her boots out to the post. Or, better yet, she would never know. I slipped off my shiny boots and stepped into Mom’s overshoes. Even after I folded the top buckle back, large openings around my legs gaped up at me. My shoes flopped around inside like pinballs banging against a wall. I made such a racket clomping out to the granary, the cows in the pasture probably heard it.
The overshoes sank into the mud next to the post, but I managed to wallow through. Mud-laden overshoes barely clung to my shoes as I one-footed up the fence. The cows were on their way home! I scrambled down as fast as lead boots allowed and stepped back into the mire. As I tried to turn, the mud held tight and my shoe slipped out of the boot and right down into the slimy black mess. Not thinking, I stuck my muddy shoe right back into the boot. I extricated Mom’s overshoe with my hands and slogged back to tell Dad about the cows.
I felt mud soaking into my right sock and knew I needed to clean up Mom’s boots. At the cattle tank, I filled a bucket with the algae-green water. An old brush on the top of the tank helped scrub down the sides as I sloshed water inside, then poured it out. Finally, I washed my shoe and rinsed and squeezed out the sock ten times. I carried Mom’s four-bucklers back to the porch, hoping they would dry before she needed them—wondering if she would notice.
Mom never mentioned wet overshoes, nor did she say anything when she sorted the laundry and found my one muddy-green sock. She never bleached it white either, which was unusual. I think she figured her little girl needed a reminder of the day she stepped into the Big Boots long before she was ready.
DeAnn Kruempel grew up on a farm near De Smet, SD, the sixth child of Harrison and Mabel Wolkow. She attended school at Erwin and De Smet. Married Vicar Robert Kruempel and lived in Benedict, ND, Toeterville, Akron, and Missouri Valley, IA. The author now resides on an acreage near Logan, IA and is employed as Children's Librarian at Missouri Valley Public Library. DeAnn has written a series of books, "Promises to Keep," which are available at Amazon.com. Watch for her new book to be released later this year, a compilation of Nooks and Crannies column stories.