These are the boots my dad gave me in the summer of 2005. They were 33 years old when I got them, and I’ve been wearing them now for almost 5 years. They have a few miles on them.
Recently I asked my dad to tell me about my Justins, and he told me he bought them in Memphis Tennessee, on the south side of town in a Western shop.
“I already had a pair of Justins,” he told me. “They were work boots, flat heel. They never fit just right until I spent an entire day fishing in Bald Knob, Arkansas, wading through the river and walking up and down the trails. Wore ’em all day until they dried, and even drove home in them. They fit me ever since.”
Conventional wisdom had it, he related, that you should always pour a glass of water in each of your new boots, and wear them until the pliable wet leather had molded to the shape of your foot.
“I wore those river-broke Justins on a road trip with my buddy Wayne Pinner,” he said, warming to his theme. We left the house just intending to find a good cup of coffee somewhere and ended up following our fancy and driving through three states. We were in my tomcat-piss-yellow ’72 Toyota Mark III station wagon, which today is sitting over at ‘Lige’s woods in Kentucky. My brothers and I drove that thing everywhere; up and down creeks, through the woods. One time we had to get a tractor to tow it out of a swamp. We didn’t pull it far enough out the first time and it slid back in; we had to tow that thing all the way to the road in the dark. We had a lot of fun in that thing,” he mused.
“I remember tying up three canoes on the top and driving through a river up in the Ozarks one time, water spraying up in two big fans on either side. I made Wayne Pinner back up and go through that river twice more so I could get a really good picture of it. Boy, if I ever come across that slide, it’s a good one.” He smiled and shook his head.
“Uh…what’s your old Toyota doing at ‘Lige’s place? How’d it get there?” I asked, distracted.
“Well,” he considered, “Lessee. I sold it to my brother Mark, who drove it for a while then gave it to his wife Susan. She eventually gave it to my Dad for use on the farm, and he sold it to ‘Lige, who worked for him. It’s still there you know, down in the woods under ‘Lige’s place.”
“Oh,” I said, and we stood companiably for a moment. “What does that have to do with my Justins?”
“Nothin’ I know of,” he told me. “I was still wearing the flat heel Justins in those days. Until that incident at the chicken house.”
I waited. This was bound to be good, whether or not we’d ever get to my Justins.
“You remember Wayne Pinner’s dad Russ?” he asked. I shook my head. “Well, he was funny. He had a little house on about 10 acres in Bald Knob that he called ‘The Oxbow Ranch.’ One time we were sitting with him in a little country restaurant and someone looked out, saw the Oxbow Ranch sign on his car. Thinking him a big rancher they asked him how many cattle he ran. Russ paused, drew on his little stubby corncob pipe, then said real thoughtfully, ‘Boys, I just don’t know.’ Wayne and I exchanged glances, but kept mum. Shortly after that we all paid up and walked out and Russ told us ‘Now fellas, I didn’t lie in there. Ol’ Number Nineteen mighta had her calf by now, so it’s either 20 or 21.'”
I laughed and poured myself fresh coffee. “You were wearing my Justins?” I prompted.
“Not the ones I gave you, yours have the dance heel. The ones I had before that were the flat heel work boots.”
“Mmm, right.” I nodded, drank my coffee, waited.
“Russ Pinner bought him a chicken farm just up from the Oxbow Ranch; he got it really cheap. It was a working chicken house with thousands of chickens, but the auger that carried out the chicken manure in the center of the barn had broken several weeks before the man sold it, and the chicken manure was about two inches higher than my boots.”
Paydirt, I thought. Getting closer!
“Mr. Pinner had got him a deal cause the owner was drowning in chickensh– well, and of course Russ had to fix the auger, which he did. But there was quite a bit of backlogged manure. It stunk like you wouldn’t believe; I don’t know how those chickens stood it. So Wayne and I went to shovel that barn out. Wayne had fixed up a small tractor with boards so that he could drive it down the center of the barn and scrape the manure forward toward the auger at the end, but there was too much for it to push. It could only move about 8 inches at a time before the weight of all that chicken manure stopped the tractor. And of course that barn was more that 150 feet long. Now there was a four-inch cement lip on either side of that barn, and if I stood on that lip and walked real careful, the manure wouldn’t come over the tops of my Justins. We lifted that tractor over the manure, set it down about 8 inches from the auger, pushed out 8 inches of manure, then backed the tractor up over the top and pushed another 8 inches, all the time walking real careful so as not to fill our boots. Sometimes the tractor would accidentally drop over the edge of the trough, and we’d have to wrestle it back up and into place. We worked all day cleaning that chicken house, the nastiest job you’d ever want to try. We were young and dumb and we had fun doing it. We were having a big time.”
He laughed. “We had to drive back to Memphis from Bald Knob that night, and even though we had the windows rolled down, I told Wayne we were going to have to get rid of our boots, I couldn’t abide the stench. So we pulled over to the side of the highway and threw our boots in the back of the truck, and even after I cleaned those Justins and aired ’em out for weeks I could never get the stink out of them. That’s why I had to buy new boots,” he said.
It was like a sunrise coming over the mountain. “That’s how you got my Justins!” I said, absurdly delighted.
“Well of course,” he said, like I was the simplest child ever born. “Didn’t you just ask me that?”