Kent Bernhardt column: Rubber boots don’t grow on trees, you know

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 15, 2022

By Kent Bernhardt

I saw someone locally selling snow boots online the other day, and it reminded me of the last time I actually owned a pair. We have little use for them here in the midsection of North Carolina, but my parents still considered them a good investment in the mid-’60s, so they occupied a space in my closet.

We were forever growing out of them, but all things considered, they were relatively cheap. Well, I say cheap, but that didn’t stop my parents from reminding us they didn’t grow on trees. We were forever being reminded things didn’t grow on trees.

You could let apples rot in the fruit dish and your dad would still say “Look at those rotten apples no one ate! Do you think apples grow on trees?”

“Actually dad, I think they…”

“Don’t talk back to me!” One day when you have to buy your own apples, you’ll realize they don’t grow on trees!”

But in spite of their cost, we were usually in line for a new pair of boots each winter. They were made of rubber and had metal snaps that fastened from your toes to the upper regions of your ankles. You could find plenty of them at the hardware store, where a man smoking a cigar had to climb a huge ladder to retrieve a pair on the top shelf that was “just my size.”

I don’t remember if they had a special name, but they saw use once, maybe twice a year when my mom would force our feet into them and throw us out of the house to play in the snow, forbidding us to come back inside before lunch. Getting out of them was far easier than getting into them.

I can still smell them. They had the same aroma as those rubber kick balls you punted across the school yard during recess or PE. If you handled them at all, the smell lingered on your hands for hours.

We wore them to protect us from “catching our death of cold” in sub-freezing temperatures during a snowstorm, or let’s face it, brief spells of snow flurries mixed with gradual clearing later in the afternoon. North Carolina snow storms lasted about as long as a Sunday afternoon nap when I was growing up.

Still, catching your death of cold was something to be feared, along with pneumonia, frostbite, and many other winter maladies that no one I ever knew experienced. It just rarely got cold enough here. It was possible to get a rare winter sunburn when the sun reappeared and melted your snowman, but that was about it.

I have a memory of a neighborhood chum who caught a block of ice in the face during what was supposed to be a friendly snowball fight, resulting in a bloody nose. We panicked, fearing any one of us could be blamed for carelessness, but his mother barely lifted an eyebrow.

“I’ve seen a lot worse,” she muttered as she ushered him inside.

She probably had. Today, the same incident might warrant an ER visit, but not in the ’60s. If you lost an eye in a sledding accident back then, your parents would say, “Well get back out there and find it — and don’t come in until you do. And when you do come in, don’t track snow all over the floor!”

I don’t know if they still sell those rubber boots with the metal snaps. But even if they’re still around, I’m sure they don’t grow on trees.

Kent Bernhardt lives in Salisbury.

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