From Chicken Soup for the Father & Daughter Soul

In My Dad’s Boots

If a child lives with approval, he learns to live with himself.

Dorothy Law Nolte

They hung on the basement wall, surprisingly small for a big man. As a daddy’s girl, I hoped I might be able to fit into them some day, perhaps with the help of an extra pair of thick socks. I treasured my dad’s dusty old cowboy boots with their engraved leather design.

Dad told me how, as a young man, by moonlight, he had driven wild horses at top speed through rough western canyons, hanging on, as he said, “by the seat of my pants and a prayer.” I wondered what he meant by that, not realizing I would soon find out for myself.

A city family, every summer we visited our Southern farm with its vast expanse of forest, meadow and bayou. As any curious child would, I tried to make friends with each strange creature I encountered.

When I was five, I climbed under a fence rail to pet the “pretty tail” connected to a huge bull! Somehow, Dad’s soft voice gently wooed me out of the pen and into the safety of his arms without disturbing the bull.

At six, accustomed to my graceful, well-groomed collie, I was intrigued by a limping, bedraggled mutt. As I stroked him, he lifted his drooping head, not to lick me as I had hoped, but to bite me! Dad held me in his strong arms for the painful rabies shots.

As a seven-year-old playing by a pond, I was inches away from sitting on the head of what I thought was a statue of an alligator. When its jaws opened to take a bite out of me, fear jet-propelled me right back into my dad’s loving arms.

Having survived to age eight, I felt indestructible when my older brother and I mounted horses to ride slowly along the dusty farm roads. With my flat-soled tennis shoes slipping in the stirrups, I imagined wearing Dad’s sturdy, wooden-heeled cowboy boots.

When we turned in the direction of the barn, our ride done for the day, my horse decided he was in a hurry to get home. Without warning, he took off running, his mane blowing and my pigtails flying. “Pull back on the reins!” my brother yelled.

The reins? I looked around for them. Too late! I had let them drop out of reach so both my hands would be free to clutch the saddle horn. The louder I screamed, the faster the horse ran. With my brother left in the dust behind me and the barn way ahead, I was alone in a no-man’s land. A hundred times a minute, I felt like I would fall. I thought, Now I know how Dad must have felt chasing wild horses—terrified!

Dad! If only he were here to rescue me. I gripped the horn until my knuckles blanched. Then I saw it—the high, wooden farm gate looming ahead. But the gate was closed, forming a barrier between my horse and the barn where he was headed. I’d seen enough cowboy movies to be pretty sure this wild ride was not going to end as gracefully as a Gene Autry scene. Whether my horse jumps the gate or stops suddenly in front of it, either way, I am about to be launched like a Fourth-of-July rocket!

“Help!” I screamed over and over. Unaware the saddle beneath me was slipping, I just sensed I was sliding off the horse. I squeezed the horse’s sides with my thighs, hugged the saddle with my body and hung on “by the seat of my pants and a prayer,” just as Dad had done.

Like frames in a slow-motion movie, I saw my knight in a white shirt taking long strides to reach the gate just in time. Dad!

Miraculously, the gate swung open the moment my horse and I flew through. When the lathered horse stopped at the barn, I slid onto the ground, crying. In a moment, I was swept up into the secure arms of my cowboy hero—Dad.

“I guess I won’t ever be good enough to ride with wild horses in the moonlight wearing your boots,” I said to him, sniffling.

“I wouldn’t be so sure,” my dad replied with his sparkling eyes and impish grin. “Anyone who could hang onto a saddle that had slipped partway off the horse, at the speed you were going, should be a rodeo rider!”

Back home a week later, there they were, freshly polished and standing at attention on the floor beside my bed—Dad’s cowboy boots.

Margaret Lang

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