Barefoot in Massachusetts

Barefoot in Massachusetts

My feet are dirty

And I couldn’t be happier about it.

I knew the spate of warmth we had a while back was a false spring. Lovely, though it was, the floors in my house and the ground outside were still too cold to be comfortable in bare feet.

There’s some Appalachian folklore about the earliest it’s safe, in terms of health, to go barefoot, but I couldn’t find it with a casual search and I’m too lazy to do an exhaustive search. If memory serves, I believe the old wives declared that it was the appearance of dandelion blooms that signaled the ground was warm enough to shed shoes.

My yard is a spanse of bright yellow dandelions and my feet are gloriously dirty.

I awoke yesterday knowing that the weather forecast was calling for warmth and sun. I planned a day of gardening. The house was already warm enough that there was no need for My Beloved Robe or house shoes. I poured coffee, opened the patio door to let the dogs out, and ending up letting myself out too. The grass was dewy, but warm and the morning sun was spotlighting the patio table and chairs. I sat on winter-filthy furniture, drank coffee, and watched the dew dry on my feet. Periodically, I ambled about the yard taking inventory of the plants – what made it through last summer’s drought and this winter’s horror and what didn’t. Though the plant inventory was depressing, the day was too beautiful to grieve.

I decided a shower was in order. I took great delight in getting out of the shower and not immediately breaking into goose bumps. Really, I’m easily amused. If I wasn’t already giddy from morning coffee on the patio, getting out of the shower and not rushing to swaddle in layers of terrycloth before hypothermia set in would have been enough to make the day a success.

I pulled on ratty jeans and an even rattier t-shirt and returned to the garden with Great Plans of yard cleanup and double digging. Hours later, I was still sitting at the table. Apparently, I just needed to wallow – barefoot. In the sun. With coffee.

I moved to West Virginia (the first time) on my 15th birthday. I have never really understood this whole barefoot hillbilly thing in the sense that running around barefoot is somehow unusual. The first 15 years of my life, most of it spent it California, Hawaii and coastal North Carolina, I spent barefoot. In fact, my first consumer act as a West Virginia resident was to buy a pair of shoes – it was cold in Bluefield in August.

In Hawaii, we wore shoes to school, but once there took them off and placed them in a box next to the door. Every morning began with us lining up to take our shoes off and toss them into a large wooden box. And no, this wasn’t some small school on a deserted island somewhere – this was a Marine Corps run elementary school on a major base. I have no idea what the shoe thing was about, but assume it had something to do with Japanese cultural influences. Many of my teachers were Japanese.

In North Carolina, I wore shoes in school, but not to or fro except for the “winter” months – loosely defined as November through February. My best friend incurred the wrath of her father when it was discovered that she had managed to fly from North Carolina to New Jersey for a summer vacation only to arrive in New Jersey without any shoes at all. My brother did the same thing the year he spent the summer in Michigan.

In fact, my shoe mania wasn’t indulged until I moved to West Virginia. At present, I have in excess of a 100 pairs of shoes in my closet. I will often buy shoes and then wait for the proper ensemble to appear to go with the shoes. I love shoes. And I love taking them off.

One of my first acts at the office is to kick my shoes off. In fact, I keep a pair of slipper socks at the office for the winter months. The rest of the year, I run around the office in socks or hose or (gasp) bare feet. I once worked with a guy from Ethiopia. In his country, bare feet were a sign of abject poverty and quite shameful. He was appalled anytime he walked into the office and noticed my naked feet. Walking about in socks didn’t seem horrify him the same way.

When the weather is accommodating, I take my shoes off in the car for my commute home. I also tend to forget to take them out of the car so there are months of the year when I have half a dozen pairs of shoes in the car. I can’t remember where it was, but I did live somewhere where it was illegal to drive barefoot. Imagine – shoe police.

Barefoot in West Virginia

Barefoot in West Virginia

I’ve run around barefoot in a number of states and foreign countries and the only time I hear hillbilly jokes is in West Virginia (or if my travel partners know I’m from West Virginia). More importantly, I am never the only person running around sans shoes. This barefoot thing only seems to be an issue here.

A month or so ago, I was staying at the Marriot in Charleston. Through a comedy of errors that was that (very long) day, I ended up with a foot injury that while not immediately noticeable precluded the wearing of shoes by the end of the day. Fortunately, we were having false-spring. I probably would have anyway, but I ended up padding through the hotel barefoot after I changed into jeans. I’m no-doubt responsible for some out-of-state guests leaving with tales of barefoot West Virginians.

Why is this cheerful little flower so hated?

Why is this cheerful little flower so hated?

So it’s mid-April, the ground is warm, and I’m barefoot. For the next 5 months or so, I will begrudge every second I’m in shoes. This is more than habit. I seem to need the contact with the earth (and concrete, gravel, carpet, etc.). I think better in bare feet. I’m happier. I’m certainly more comfortable.

I definitely need a pedicure.  And I’m curious as to why people wage war against dandelions.  They’re such cheerful, hardy little things.

The Little Amaryllis That Could

Bulging buds out of nowhere.
Bulging buds out of nowhere.

Sometimes I find myself standing in cut-rate shopping emporium specializing in factory overruns and slightly damaged goods waiting for the cashier to bag my purchases. Since I have a fetish of sorts for dishes, my purchase is likely to involve sushi plates I don’t need or ramekins I do, or some sort of fragile item. After a few minutes watching the cashier swaddle the finger bowls, I say something like “Just toss it in the bag. If it can’t survive the trip home, it can’t survive my house.”

This is one of the Barn’s great truths You have to be tough to live here. The second great truth is You have to thrive on neglect.

With few exceptions, if it’s in my house, it’s here to be enjoyed. That was one of the tenets of the Great De-Junking of 2005-2008 (and counting): No more “saving for something special” – wrapped in bubble wrap, nestled in a box and stored in a reinforced container pending the arrival of “Something Special”.

I’m not careless (for the most part). Still, I have things that are chipped or just downright broken that other people would toss. As long as they are still usable and/or make me smile, they’re still here. Some people are appalled by this. Some people see it as an opportunity to replace whatever it is at the next gift-giving occasion. Some people understand it for what it is.

The goal is, and has been, to have only things that I love.

I veer towards the strange in the things (and people) I choose to love.

I love this house. A sensible person would bulldoze it.

I love my dogs. Rational people would send them to foster care for rehabilitation.

I love dishes. There’s no excuse for this. I just do.

I love most of my stuff. (I’m working on that most.) People are either charmed or horrified when they walk in here.

I love houseplants, but I’ve noticed over the years that I go in a yearly cycle. I lovingly tend them from early spring to mid-summer at which time they are summarily ignored to tend to the garden. For the remaining 8-9 months, they’re lucky if they get watered. After years of this, I have plants that can thrive on willpower alone.

19 inches of spectacular surprise.

19 inches of spectacular surprise.

One of the plants is an amaryllis that I acquired from somewhere or someone so many years ago now that I can’t summon the details. I vaguely remember putting the bulb in the pot that came with it, tossing potting soil on top of it, and watching leaves sprout. It took several years before it did anything but produce leaves. I read up on amaryllis bulbs. I was supposed to do this and this and a fair amount of that, put it in a closet for X amount of weeks, recite incantations, and feed it baby giggles ground with rainbow sludge. But I never did any of that. It sat on my counter and did or did not grow more leaves. For 11 months of the year, it is droopy, long leaves collecting dust and spider webs on the plant counter. Periodically one of the leaves will turn brown and crispy and I will allow as how that leaf is truly dead, rip it off and throw it away. It always looks half-dead or dying. Other than pulling off the certainly-dead parts and the occasional splatter of water, it fends for itself.

One year, well after Christmas and without any sounding trumpets, it bloomed. Initially, I thought the end-times were upon us. Sometimes in February and sometimes in March, and this year in April, it will suddenly sprout a stalk that Jack would recognize. I do mean suddenly. In less than 24 hours, there was no stalk and then there was a stalk 19″ tall (I measured). At the top of the stalk, a bulbous, faintly obscene bulging will emerge. The bulge gets bigger. And bigger. Soon you can see hints of red in the green.

Alien probes come to mind.

A lesson to learn.

A lesson to learn.

The first year it did this, we all scooted kitchen chairs up to the counter and watched in fascination.

But this year two bulbous bulgings appeared. We’re now into Hour 36 (or so) of the alien probe. I’ve witnessed this transformation for several years now, so I’m not as mesmerized as I once was. But it’s still pretty amazing. I’ve yet to become blasé about it. When I do, I’ll give it to someone.

The amaryllis, without any help from me, is blooming. It hasn’t been repotted in ten years. It hasn’t been fertilized. Life can’t be much harder for this plant. You’ve got to thrive on neglect around here if you’re an indoor plant. You’ve got to be tough.

The fool thing is not only blooming. It’s double blooming.

There’s got to be a lesson in here that will do my beleaguered heart some good.