Shabby boots and skin horses l Chuck's World

Mar 07, 2018

I rummaged through my closet yesterday and came up with a talisman. Sometimes you will.

There’s a lot of stuff in that closet, most of it decidedly not mystical. It’s technically a linen closet, but you know what? We have, I suspect, a pretty average amount of linen. Certainly not excessive. And it’s a pretty big closet.

I’m not talking out of school; if you don’t have a closet like this, you don’t have closets. Or else you’ve watched a YouTube video about decluttering, but trust me. Your closet will return to normal pretty soon.

This closet is a repository of unrealistic expectations, most of those having to do with the potential utility of those four blow dryers I found shoved into the back. Apparently you can never have too many.

And then there are the multiple cables that connect devices that do not, in all likelihood, exist on this planet anymore.

There are plastic bags stuffed with audiocassettes, which we’ll need to listen to, label, and carefully preserve for the future, which means we might as well toss the bunch in a bonfire and then forget we did. The result will be the same.

I found the talisman right where I left it, though. It’s been on my mind for nearly 60 years.

It’s nothing, really, just a cheap, tiny award, a plaque and a small depiction of a man with a suitcase. It’s a salesman award, for a good year now long forgotten, and it belonged to my grandfather. He was many things, but among them apparently a remarkable salesman, with the gift of gab and a knack for closing.

He always had this award, sitting casually on a coffee table or bookshelf, and as a small boy I seemed to enjoy playing with it, turning it over and over, trying to decipher the faint inscription and imagine a past when it was important. Turns out I was looking in the wrong direction.

I was given the assignment of finding three objects that symbolize or somehow represent my life, or my character. It was an icebreaker game for an ongoing class I’m attending, and it was a piece of cake, of course.

This is me we’re talking about. I could have grabbed a roll of paper towels, a stand mixer, and a refrigerator magnet and told a pretty detailed story. It’s sort of what I do.

I’m confident it wouldn’t be an interesting story. I’m just saying it’s possible.

My closet contains the remnants of three decades spent in the same house with the same storage space. We barely stay out of the hoarder category by periodically cleaning out, but I’m sure I can find stragglers from the 1980s still hanging around in the basement. Definitely an “Alf” toy. Possibly Michael Dukakis.

Had I been thinking, though, I would have just brought the boots to my little socialization experiment. They’re old and worn out, not fancy and pretty unremarkable for boots, and they possess magic I can’t explain. Old magic. Talisman magic.

I bought matching pairs of these boots for my wife’s 28th birthday. We’d eyed them in the store, and on the big day I pulled the trigger. We lived in northern Arizona, and while I’d never worn cowboy boots in my life, she was from Texas and it was a given that she needed boots. I just came along.

It was the first gift between us in our new relationship, and her first birthday with me. Kind of an important day, more so because we went to lunch with my parents, their first meeting with the new girl. They noted my boots without much comment.

I wore those boots for nearly a year, lots of active, everyday use. I waited on tables with them, lurched around stages, danced awkwardly, slipped on the ice and waded through snow banks with those boots.

And then we moved to the Northwest, and they seemed less part of the culture. Or else my feet got fat. They slipped further back into another closet (we have lots) and remain there today, and last week, on her birthday.

It’s been 35 years since that morning in the mountains, proudly presenting her with shoeboxes, glowing from new love and our anticipation of a glorious, if murky, future.

Now it’s here, and not so murky. I’ve collected new talismans, including a grandson, a credit score, a bald spot, and a left ear that is essentially ornamental at this point. I can tell time has passed.

And I have those boots, nudging me from the darkness. They hold the DNA of dreams, possibilities that only require years. The years have come and gone, the dreams have done what dreams do, and the boots remain.

“Generally, by the time you are Real,” says the Skin Horse in Margery Williams’ “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “Most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”

These boots are now real, then. Less talisman than testament to endurance, maybe, but I wonder. We were just starting out, the two of us, and I gave her the boots as a gesture, not really understanding that we were about to take steps that would lead us here.

We just needed solid footwear, and it turns out we had it.

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