It was not unusual for me to greet strangers at the door of our childhood home completely naked – not that we had many visitors.
The grown-ups were too busy to protest or enforce rules, east coast summers were sweltering and humid and clothes were a bother. I went without a shirt in public until I began to develop and often drove the car shirtless as an adult. Since my curves were slight, I thought I could easily be mistaken for a man. This drove my kids crazy, so I stopped.
Because I wore my hair short, I had an idea that I looked like a man and believed strangers couldn’t tell the difference. Some days I’d test my theory by going into a shopping mall dressed in a man’s suit and hat. Of course my skin was cream colored and smooth, and my figure thin and hourglass, but that never occurred to me. Sometimes I’d even glue a mustache above my lip to gain credibility. I did well if I kept my distance, but speaking was a dead give-away, so I would never answer a question, I would grunt or make deep guttural male sounds when a clerk asked if I needed help.
Well, I probably needed a lot of help, but not in the ways they thought. If I caught a clerk looking at me and giving me a broad knowing smile, I knew the gig was up, smiled back and made my way out the door. Must not look like a man today, I thought.
We went barefoot year round as kids. We were without shoes in all kinds of weather including snow. I imagined I would live my entire life without shoes until I stepped on a lit cigarette at the county fair. That left a lasting impression that changed my mind.
My parents ran an upscale restaurant, and customers often complained about our lack of shoes. You should supervise those kids, they’d say, or they’ll all have pneumonia. My folks dealt with this by repeating their words, but there was never any threat or action. We were just kids being kids. They would report the conversation much like they’d say, Looks like Glenn’s cow is out. Guess someone ought to give him a call.
One afternoon I was walking back from the woods carrying my dad’s double barreled shotgun. It was a 20 gauge, which I liked better than the 12 gauge because that one recoiled and hurt my shoulder. I’d been doing some target practice and feeling good about my aim. We were all taught to use guns and to use them safely, it was part of living on a farm, but when a customer complained about a kid walking on her own through the pasture with a 20 gauge, my dad caved in. I never quite forgave him. I knew what I was doing and hated to be told I had to stop because someone else got scared.
It poured rain the other day. I was feeling stagnant and disconnected so I went outside in my bare feet for the first time in decades. I walked to a tree stump in the middle of the woods and let my feet rest in tall grass. I soaked the earth up through the mud and into my core. It was the perfect medicine, simple, immediate and right. Funny how a little thing like that could take me back to my roots and a clear remembering of the land that once held and defined me.