Barefoot memories.

What is it like to grow up barefoot?

answered by Lucy McKinney

Well way back when I was a youngster, oh, ’round nineteen hund’rt-aught-‘69-’79, we had no fear of pinworms or rabies. Copperheads smelt like cucumbers, so we knew not to walk ’round them pickle-smellin’ trees.

When I was a child, we would walk the Chesapeake shallows at low tide to scoop up crabs, which were always plentiful back then, using our cheap crab nets and pouring our catch into bushel baskets we dragged behind us that quietly floated atop inner-tubes which were tied to our waists by lengths of rope. Early morning. Early evening. Boring afternoons. Our only threats were pieces of glass or the occasional horseshoe crab, buried in the mud with its prehistoric spike protruding above the mud, below the murky water—threats which we quickly forgot. We were not concerned about our feet as much as we were excited to be able to feed the family a local feast when we got back with our catch.

When the temperature reached around 95 degrees each summer, the tar would bubble up through the asphalt on the poorly paved streets of our tiny beach community, and we would press our footprints into the hot black puddles, where they remained my entire childhood, as we were determined to create proof of our lives in our isolated little Anywhere town on the Chesapeake Bay. By Labor Day, our feet were rugged from our daily regimen of bay water, walking, tar puddles and running around and away in our dreams if not catching fireflies in the evening breezes after the sodium street lamps came on, when our parents would call us back in to protect us from threats we had no idea existed back then, and, of course, running for our parents, who would sometimes give us 50 cents to dash toward the approaching bells of the ice cream man.

My sister and I danced barefoot beneath the clouds calling upon the rain gods to cry down upon us. I still remember the smell of rain; it smelled different then, cleaner. I still remember the cool ground and sharp oyster shells that carpeted the backyard near the driveway where we danced. I remember our joy when the gods obliged us.

When I was a barefoot child, we did not understand privacy, because it was assumed; we were its beneficiaries. We could think, daydream, create, and wonder the way we found best. We found our conscience, independent of social media, only the sermons given each Sunday by our reverend at the local church—the only church for five miles. We walked the 1.5 miles each way, barefoot to and from, wearing shoes only during the service and afterwards when my dad would take us to the tiny grocery store/butchery that served everyone for 15 miles, to buy us each 10 cents worth of penny candies.

We could trust people who said they cared; we could respect those who said they were in charge.

Lucy McKinney

We could trust people who said they cared; we could respect those who said they were in charge. We were grounded in time and space, and we could read the rhythms of each day without fear, shoes or no shoes.

We were better for our experiences. No two experiences were ever the same, but our newer experiences made the experiences of the previous year fade until we were adults who were focusing on our adult pursuits—driver’s license, love, independence, education, career. Some of us settled down; some only settled for. Some of us made do with our only resources. What remained by the time we had transitioned to responsible [sometimes irresponsible] adulthood were those memories of crabbing and red-bottom boats and the marsh, and the watermen who lived with outhouses and no electricity in one- or two-room houses built around 1905–10 when the beach community began as a fishing village. Lying on freshly mown lawns, sometimes crying in the tall grass, always barefoot, unaware we had been blessed with a wealth of fearlessness, with the absence of concern of child predators, of kidnappers, of hatred, of terrorist bombings and mass shooters and cruelty, of inhumanity…at least for those few years when we were treated as the next generation and allowed to rule our three-square-mile world.

Barefoot memories? Those are my fondest memories of my childhood. They have made my other childhood memories bearable, if I am well or accurately remembering those, or the memories above, as my mind intended them to be remembered.

Every child deserves to rule their world, just to learn they can do it when they grow up. I consider myself blessed in this regard. 😇


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