It was the boots she chose in the end. After days of sifting through his things, she knew. These would be the treasures she would choose to keep, her father’s old boots.
There on the floor of the dusty cluttered shed they stood in a shaft of sunlight. Curling slightly at the toes and worn down at the heels she recognized in them her father’s gait and the impressions it had left on his precious boots. The bump where his bunion had forced the leather to accommodate it and the way the insteps fell together, a result of his flat feet that had eventually kept him out of the war. He hadn’t had the best feet in the world, it was true and while they had caused him pain during his life, they had also carried him for many a year over hill and dale and even up a few mountains.
Her feet were just the same and she remembered the times she had resented this inheritance. How she had envied her best friend’s feet and the accolades heaped upon them by the school nurse because they were so divinely perfect, due in no small part she was sure, to the “sensible shoes” her friend was forced to wear.
But it was different now. She didn’t mind any more. Standing alone in a silt of scattered newspapers and the wreckage of un-repaired furniture her eyes rested upon his boots, the relics of more than a few childhood memories.
These were the boots that had carried her father over the fields and down the lanes to the old Mill Pond where he would seek out the elusive Kingfisher. Sometimes he’d walk as far as Earlswood Lakes to watch his beloved Canada geese, or across the verdant meadows, behind the house to see if the fox had had her cubs yet.
With his boots laced up, his cap set jauntily on his head, his binoculars in hand and a quick look in the mirror, satisfied that he was fit to be seen, he’d saunter off “down the cut” for hours on end to inspect the flora and fauna.
He loved all of nature and was a natural woodsman. It came as no surprise to her that her father had planted hundreds of trees over the years. He sprouted acorns and “conkers” from the great Horse Chestnut trees in pots in his garden. It was a gesture he thought little of as he ambled off to plant them when the time was right. Amongst the banks and the hollows, in a shady spot or a sunny location where he thought an English Oak or a noble Chestnut tree could flourish dramatically. He was happily creating the landscape to his liking.
He probably could have shown her where most of them were if she’d asked, but she didn’t. She just asked him “Why?” and he didn’t have an answer for her. Just a quizzical look as if to say “Why not?” And though he was gone now, he had left a mark on the Warwickshire landscape as permanent as he could wish.
His garden reflected his natural proclivity for all things wild. This being the case, the grasses and wild flowers enjoyed the freedom to grow where they would. This uncontained tanglement was the cause of great aggravation not only for George, the next door neighbour, whose own garden had a park like quality about it, but also her own mother who would never miss an opportunity to gaze over the fence wistfully, especially when her father was out doors. Then, looking over the horticultural nightmare that was her own garden in utter despair, she would give father a withering look before going inside.
Their creature comforts taken care of by the absence of a lawn mower, several small furry residents quickly made themselves at home. They had only to weasel their way through the hedge into George�s abundant vegetable garden for a repast beyond compare. Father increased their bounty by providing warm milk and bread for the Hedgehogs and was always delighted when the babies were brought out for an airing, convinced in his mind that they were brought along solely for his inspection and approval. However, this did little to discourage the hairy rascals from poaching George’s prized vegetables and eventually, over-come with guilt, father eventually put on his boots, picked up his scythe and went “down the gardin” to see what could be done.
The nature preserve was cut down except for “a bit o” green for the faeries and the dryad” at the far end of the garden. The tundra that now greeted him each time he walked outside was so disturbing to him that he was compelled to do something about it. That was the summer he became a gardener and for the next few years he surprised and delighted his family and neighbours with an abundance and variety of vegetables fit for a king. He made friends with George who happily shared his secrets for matchless “tayturs”. They now fell into easy conversations over the fence as they discussed the merits of mulching, fertilizing and harvesting their respective broods of fruits and vegetables.
But then he fell into a steady decline. Although he still went for walks, he could no longer manage the garden and eventually it grew back into the wilderness it had once been. He became angry and frustrated and unable to cope with a disease that came in the night and stole his mind knowing his heart would follow.
In his entire life he’d only seen the inside of a church twice and that was plenty for him. He liked to say “When I die, put me in the dustbin”. He’d laugh and wheeze a bit, having no illusions about where he would be going. Then he’d fall into a happy silence.
Released from her reverie, she cast about the wreckage for his other boots but they were not to be found. A pair of dark green climbing boots that took him to the summits of several mountains, but that was when he was younger. She had sat dangling her feet in Welsh mountain streams with her mother as they watched him take her brother up into the clouds. When his son became a Boy Scout, he joined too, and as Scoutmaster to the senior boys of the 89th troop, he never disappointed his charges. With his talent for climbing and his love for the outdoors, he led mountaineering expeditions and hikes that thrilled and excited his intrepid adventurers. These were probably his glory days, the times he would most wish to remember.
As she climbed over the debris of his life, she remembered him best of all as the father who had quietly loved her and supported her. She remembered his sense of humour and how he would laugh now if he could see her.
She climbed out of the shed, closed the door behind her and walked up to the house for a cup of tea, comforted by the feel of his old boots and how well they fitted her feet.
Contributed by Amanda Bradley, Edmonds, Washington