Dear Boots: June 2024

By Anna Mitchael

Questions from Deep in the Heart of Texas

Dear Boots,

By August the flowers in my planters are always shriveled sticks. I’m tired of spending money at the nursery. What do you think of artificial greenery?

— From, Carol M., Lorena, TX

Dear Carol,

I’ve got two stories for you. At first they might seem unrelated. But as my grandmother used to say about small towns in East Texas, give it a little time and eventually you find out everybody’s kin.

Many, many years ago I had coffee with a woman who was a stranger and, as we soon found out, had opposing views in every obvious way. Have you ever had an hour of your life that felt like a slow pull of metal grating across metal? Like every minute brings a higher pitch of auditory pain?

Finally I got to the point where I was ready to broach all etiquette and wave the white napkin in defeat. What good could possibly come from this hour? Wasted, Carol, like milk from an udder straight into the mud.

Until that milk found its way into a Mason jar.

In the final minutes of our discomfiting time together, the woman told a story about a friend of hers who had extensive plastic surgery and emerged looking much younger. So much younger, this woman didn’t recognize her friend. I automatically wrinkled my judgy little nose. How long had it been programmed into me that fake was bad and authenticity was good?

The woman across the table was shook by my reaction. “You don’t know this person at all,” she said. Immediately I knew: This stranger was right as rain.
The metal stopped grating. My inner Southern woman trying to coast through the hour with small talk was forced to dig deeper than my proverbial Lilly Pulitzer pattern. I didn’t know the person she was talking about at all. Furthermore I was trying to do my best fakery to get through the hour while judging someone else on being fake.

Story number two. After the last rain, our yard was overrun with insects. The centipede on a leisurely crawl across the swing set was unwelcome; others were enchanting guests. My daughter was especially taken by a well-camouflaged mantis. I wish you could have seen her face as understanding dawned: The leaf was walking.

The old equation of fake bad, authenticity good doesn’t really apply there, does it, Carol? The fakery of the mantis equals an increase of vitality for all involved. Discovery. Being impressed at the cunning qualities of the faker. Pleasure in an unexpected turn.

When you ask people if you should get artificial greenery, you’ll likely find the automatic reaction is a no, but I do believe we owe ourselves a look that goes deeper. If buying some artificial greenery is the best decision for your front porch, your budget and you — why not? “Fake bad, authenticity good” as marching orders leaves little room for souls who might want to skip along the way. Such quick reactions say more about the people with wrinkled noses than it does about “the faker” in question.

— Love, Boots

Dear Boots,

I’m 72 years old and haven’t been on a bicycle since I was 10. Last month I rectified that and bought myself a fine specimen of cycle. Now I’ve only got one problem … I don’t know where to ride it. Do you have advice on where a beginning cyclist should go?

— From, Larry S., Waco, TX

Larry, Larry, Larry, you fiery beast. Absolutely you went and bought a fine specimen of a cycle. Absolutely you need to get that bicycle out into the wilds of Waco. May no terrain limit your adventuring! May no silly number, like an age, ever hold you back!

You are an inspiration to those of us whose bikes are currently suspended from hooks in our garages. Whose age keeps us from doing things such as jaunting across splash pads or chasing ducks down vaulted grass hills toward the Brazos. Thank you for this letter. Thank you for this reminder that things we love will fall away — such is life, but we can always make the decision to go find them again.

When I was in my 20s I spent a few years in the saddle of a cycle. I was a horrible cycler, truly awful. My favorite part was at the end, when we would “park” our bikes outside a restaurant for après pain. One of the women in the group that biked with us made those years of cycling worth it. Every time we hit a big hill, she would chant at the top of her lungs, “Strength of a lion,” with one cycle rotation, and then, as the other leg pumped around,
“Fire of a bear.”

What did she mean, Larry? I don’t know. But I would be omitting an important part of the story if I didn’t admit that when birthing all three of my children I, at one contraction or another, found myself whispering those same words, “Strength of a lion, fire of a bear.”

I have no idea which roads you should explore, but there are bike lanes all over Waco, and it’s about time someone used them. Wherever you decide to go, I hope this outdoorsy adventure uncovers new inner reservoirs — may strength and fire spray from the earth like a splash pad.

— Love, Boots