From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Rusty Feet

That best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.

William Wordsworth

Kneeling here on my forty-one-year-old knees holding a crusty, dry, rusty unkempt foot in my towel-draped lap. Slowly and gently rubbing off the foot scrapings and thinking how gross all this is. Trying not to get any of the stuff I’m scraping off on my new sweater. Feet turning colors from lack of circulation and swollen because his kidneys aren’t properly functioning. I look up at the teakwood face covered with wiry silver hair, and he grimaces at me.

“A little more gently, okay, but that feels good.”

“Can you lift up your foot a little?” I watch him strain fruitlessly, until I finally just shift and pull his foot higher and try not to hurt him any more than he must be hurting.

A little moan. He cuts off.

“Your feet look awful,” I whine, but keep scraping because somewhere under the crud I see the strong, supple toes and arches that leapt and lumbered on the cement in the backyard, schooling me in how to play basketball, and running up the hill to shoot me down the toboggan run just one more time on frigid, snow-covered slopes.

These are the feet that trudged through woods for the ultimate camping experience (in spite of his snake phobia) and through countless museums for the ultimate cultural experience. The feet that jumped the fence to catch the stupid dog that kept leaping it and running away. The feet that chased the mouse out of the house so I could get down off the counter. The feet that chased the ice cream man for a block to stop—so I could get that Strawberry Shortcake bar—and then took me to the supermarket to get a whole pack of Strawberry Shortcakes where they were cheaper.

I see the feet connected to the legs connected to the hips, chest and shoulders that carried me to my first Jackson Five concert. And let me sit there and jump up and down and scream onto the connected head that holds the ears that listened to all of my deepest fears and hopes and prayers and tried to make the most important ones come true.

The feet that walked into my room when I started my period and stamped impatiently for me to get up out of bed and get on with life because every other woman has a period, too. The feet that taught me how to bop, foxtrot, waltz and square dance, and then learned all the latest dances so they wouldn’t shame me at the dance I forced him to attend with me. The feet that stampeded in panic into the hospital and skidded to the gurney in relief when I stopped a Cadillac with my body.

I put the foot on my lap into the waiting soapy hot water, to soak off the most recalcitrant gunk, and take out the other foot. I massage each toe individually as he pants with discomfort.

“Don’t rub there. It hurts,” he breathes when I get to his instep.

“There?” I touch the spot.

“There,” he grits, and rolls his eyes at me. I keep scrubbing away.

“You have to take better care of yourself, you know.”

He gives me a long look and sighs, “Yeah, you’re right. I talked to the Lord and told him that I will do right from now on.”

My eyes mist over and I lower them to the foot in my lap because that mouth has never said anything about talking to the Lord before in my hearing. He must be feeling worse than I know. I quash the thought. No negative thinking, I tell myself sternly and rub a spot on his sole with a little more vigor.

“You need to see a podiatrist. What happened to this toe?” I point to the blackened big toe with my pumice stone. He opens his mouth to tell me but I don’t pause, “This is nasty. You have to take better care of your feet. You have to walk on them for the rest of your life, you know.”

I’m fussing and I know I’m nagging, but I keep scraping and wiping and rubbing.

“Got that playing basketball,” he smiles, reminiscing. “Some kid stepped on it when she came down from a rebound.”

I finish the second foot and take the first one out of the water.

“I’m tired now.” Weariness is on his face, so I dry off both feet and coat them in Vaseline because they are so dry from medication and neglect.

“They feel much better,” he smiles. “Thanks.”

I rise from the floor, knees creaking. He’s cold so I wrestle him into a fleece sweater because he is too weak to do it himself. I help him lay on the bed and pick up his swollen feet and elevate them on some pillows.

I cover him up and he says, “It’s interesting.”


“How the circle continues.” He eyes me wistfully. “I used to take care of you, and now you’re taking care of me. It was kind of fun, you know?”

I look down at the foot tub brimming with cloudy water, filled with the layers of our life together. I look back at his face.

“Yes, Dad,” I smile for the first time. “It was.” I lean down and kiss his face as his eyes drift closed for a nap.

Landis Mayers Lain

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