Dear Boots: Sept 2022

By Boots

Dear Boots

Questions From Deep in the Heart of Texas

My brother just had his first kid and I want to buy that boy some boots. What’s the right age to introduce a child to the joys of western footwear?

-First-Time Uncle

Skiing is not a talent that the good Lord bestowed upon me. In its stead, He gave me thick skin, which I’ve learned comes in handy while skiing, as I spend most of my time either laying in, or trying to climb out of, very cold snow. As any mediocre-or-worse skier knows, nothing will humble an adult faster than being face first in a snowbank while a child no taller than your kneecap sails by, not a care in the world, next stop, double black diamond Olympics.

Many years ago, when I was separating shards of my ego from snowflakes after just that humiliation, the child’s father, who was flying down the mountain behind her, stopped to help me gather myself and my skiing supplies. “You must teach them to ski as soon as they can walk here,” I said to the parent. He smiled and answered, “Why would we wait for them to walk?”

In this space, I often shy away from child-rearing advice. Mostly because, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve had a friend call me in tears because the internet promised the sippy cup/breastfeeding/time-out strategy/sleep training schedule would fix everything, but it didn’t, my piggy bank would be in retirement by now. Our epitaph may one day read: So many experts, so little progress.

But that father on the ski slope wasn’t giving advice, he was speaking from experience that seems relevant to pass on to you now. And that is: Why wait? When we love something deeply, the natural human reaction is to share it. If you’re suffering indecision, anxiety or fear around how or when to share, that’s something of the world that’s snuck into your heart and messed up the pathways. You have a very small and precious amount of time where this nephew of yours will want to see the world through the eyes of those who care for him. I say, seize that window, then follow on the mountain as long as you can keep up.

He may not grow up to be a western footwear fanatic the likes of you or me, but in the end, that won’t really matter at all. Those boots you give aren’t just finely crafted straps of leather to fancy up his feet, they are a little piece of you. His pathways aren’t yet jumbled by the world and so he will feel that, he will know it and long after he outgrows the boots, he will still be walking in that love.

Waco claims to be “the heart of Texas” but then when I travel to other towns in central Texas, I see they say that too. Are we the real thing?

-Wondering in Waco

I’ll admit, Wondering, this question has been a doozy. For days after receiving your email, as I drove around town, this inquiry was lodged in my mind. How many years had I accepted Waco as the heart of Texas without question? How many decades did I go without wondering why we made such a claim, or if we had the right to?

It reminded me of when my children were but toddlers, armed with peanut butter sandwiches, cheese crackers shaped like rudimentary trout, and questions that could knock you right off your saddle. ‘Why is the sky blue?’ ‘What’s more beautiful than a flower?’ Gamechangers, the lot of them. And now yours: Is Waco the heart of Texas?

Initial research seconds your observation that cities other than our own lay similar claim. At first, I thought the best way to attack this duplicity was to make a case for why we rightfully hold the title. Looking at a map tells us we aren’t the actual center of Texas, which many might assume the “heart” references. But maybe there was a measurement of where the heart sits in the human body that could be tracked back to where Waco sits on a map? Perhaps it was time to borrow from the friendly political editorialists in our internet neighborhoods — a little word wiggling here, some blurred fact lines there, a quote from someone who sounds important enough that naysayers will shut their traps.

But before I could pull out my trusty truth garbler — also known as my internet-equipped phone machine — I remembered an answer I once heard to the question, “Why is the sky blue?” It wasn’t the answer from someone trying to stay on top. It wasn’t an answer at all. It was another question: “What if it’s not?”

What if the heart of Texas has nothing to do with actual geography, Wondering? I’d bet my favorite floral bandanna that you’ve heard the phrase, “Let’s get to the heart of the matter.” That heart makes me think of kitchen tables with candles burning, where people are going to camp out into the wee hours of the night so the issue can be resolved. It’s friends holding each other up by the elbows and loved ones shaking because after much searching they’ve found a truth. At the heart of the matter, we are not passive. We are engaged and engaging to those around us. We are alive.

Here’s a confession, Wondering. Many moons ago, when the choice was being made, Waco was not my choice. I had dreams of a life lived west, out where it’s too wild for Target or Panda Express to reach. As I was trying to settle into town, a person much wiser than me said, “I don’t think the place matters nearly as much as what you do in that place.”

It’s possible that one day Belton will have the most establishments claiming to be “the heart of Texas.” It’s also possible that, for reasons you would never predict today, you might eventually move to far East Texas, or the panhandle or some other place so fringe on the map it would never be the heart of anything.

But if you’re living in the heart of the matter — like your existence is dependent upon sussing out truth and then holding yourself so close to its fire that your eyebrows are singed by the flame — isn’t it possible that you’ll be living in the heart of Texas, no matter where you actually are?

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