I first noticed them earlier this week. The happenstance of a school bus stopping placed me just past the old Line & Twine in Ashaway. There, to my right, a pair of men’s workboots sat on a stoop. They were perfectly lined up, toes facing the road. They might have been a piece of art – stuffed with dried flowers, say, or accented with a pumpkin, they could pass for some rural still life. Or they might have been just a pair of men’s work boots, left outside to dry or air out.
The boots were there again this morning, filling with rain, so I thought either that their unfortunate owner hadn’t read the forecast, or they indeed were meant as a bit of Swamp Yankee décor. With our own yard full of sawmill blades and petroleum cans, I can appreciate the effect.
Soon, those boots made their way into rhymed couplets in my mind: Whose boots these are I think I know/He left them on the stoop in a row. Or: In the room boots come and go/reeking odors toe to toe.
“Boots” being such a friendly rhyming word, worming its way into Frost’s woods and Eliot’s women, I could have gone on with these silly rhymes all morning.
Whoever lives in the boots’ house has more than a passing relationship with the river. It’s hard by the back yard, itself barely the size of a sandbox. Whoever lives here could easily walk outside and cast a fly into the dark waters of the Pawcatuck, or launch a canoe or kayak. But these weren’t waders on the step, they were men’s work boots, the simple unadorned kind that have seen years of work yet stand up to the punishment. A roofer, maybe, a carpenter, a construction worker.
My father always had a good pair of boots – steel-toed, for protection against an errant chain saw or dropped log. My mother didn’t make him leave them outside, for we had a back room for such things. They were scuffed, mud-covered, sawdust-filled. At night, my father sat in the living room in just his stocking feet, glad to be free of the stiffened leather and rawhide lacings.
Yet, when he competed in the Rocky Hill State Fair woodchopping contest, my father did so barefoot. He claimed it gave him a better grip on the log, to prop his foot up there while he chopped away. His concentration and coordination were legendary. My grandfather lost a finger to a saw, but my father kept all his digits until the end.
I don’t know what those boots were doing outside Tuesday, or in the rain today, and I don’t really want to know. I’d rather imagine how they got there, walk inside them a little bit. They are just a little story waiting to be told.