72: American Boots

72: American Boots

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Spirit of America

American Boots

Some people dream of success . . . while others wake up and work hard at it.

~Author Unknown

As a kid visiting my grandparents, I was always intrigued by a very old pair of worn leather boots with missing laces that were kept just inside their back door. They certainly weren’t footwear my grandmother would wear and they were too small for my grandfather. I never saw anyone put them on.

Those boots stayed there though. In the summer, when the doormat was covered with sandals and sneakers, they were there. The doorway would be surrounded with rubber galoshes and heavy shoes in the winter and the old, worn boots were there too.

Finally, one day when I was about twelve, I asked my grandmother about the boots. I remember she and I were sitting at the kitchen table — me with a glass of chocolate milk, her with a steaming cup of spearmint tea, and a plate of oatmeal raisin cookies between us. I looked over at the back door; there on the mat were my red sneakers, my grandfather’s steel-toed work boots, Grandma’s shiny black shoes — and the old boots.

“Grandma,” I asked. “Whose old boots are those?”

“Those are my father’s boots, dear,” she said.

“But, you said your father died before I was born,” I replied.

“Yes, he did,” she nodded and slid the plate of cookies closer to me.

“So, why do you still have his boots?” I took another cookie. “They’re really worn out.”

Grandma sipped her tea. “Those, my dear, are the first pair of shoes my father bought after he got to America. And he wore them his whole life. He called them his American boots.”

“Do you wear them sometimes?” I asked.

“Oh, no,” my grandmother shook her head. “They’re not to wear. They’re just a reminder.”

“A reminder?” I asked. “To remind you to put shoes on before you go outside?”

Grandma laughed. “No, dear, I’m pretty good about remembering to put shoes on. You see, when my family came to this county in 1904, we had nothing but the clothes we were wearing and a few dollars my parents had managed to save before we left Germany. My father found us a place to live, got a job, earned a living to support his family, and eventually bought a house. Then, years later, I asked my father if he had ever imagined, when we were leaving the port of Hamburg years ago, that he would get to that successful point — owning his own home, with two married daughters and a grandchild on the way.”

“What did he say?”

“He said he could indeed imagine it because his secret was steps — tiny little steps, always moving forward. My father knew he could make it because he thought America gave a friendly kick in the pants to everyone who came here. He believed that no matter how your homeland had hindered or impeded you, once you got to America, you’d feel that little kick in the pants that would make you take a step forward. He always joked with my sister and me that if we ever needed a kick to get going, he’d be glad to help us with his American boots.”

“And what he believed is true,” continued my grandmother. “My father started with nothing, but he acquired a trade, learned to vote, budget money, and get a mortgage. So, after he passed away, I always kept his old American boots right by the back door so I see them every time I go in or out. That way those boots can remind me if I need a little kick in the pants to keep me going.”

Nowadays, by my own back door, among my sneakers and flip-flops, I have those old, worn American boots tucked in the corner. It’s a friendly reminder that I will always keep moving forward, even if I occasionally need an American kick in the pants to get me started.

~David Hull

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