I wear gumboots a lot these days. The weather has been rainy and the gravel road where the dog and I walk each morning gets boggy and slick. The yard is muddy too and the daily chores require a good pair of gumboots. They’re essential footwear out here. I’ve sometimes been known to wear them like shoes and I still like to roll the tops down and stomp around like a kid.
I like the way they make me look. In my sweater and my favorite short brimmed hat I feel like a back woods trapper and it makes me proud to occupy a spot of land in the mountains. In the winter with a red checked lumberjack shirt, a toque and mitts with an armload of wood, I feel grounded and set. I’ve been here seven years and it’s become home. Gumboots and all.
When I wear gumboots I remember how they used to be my favorite footwear. When I was a kid, around six or seven, I wouldn’t take them off. I wore them like shoes and I guess that’s where my grown up tendency comes from. I wore them outside my pant legs or inside. I rolled the tops down because I thought they resembled pirate boots. I made sure to buff the toes every day.
The route to the school I attended was down one steep hill, along a flat and then up another hill passed the pulp mill. At lunch time and after school ended for the day, the boys would race. We’d be virtually aquiver and once we were dismissed we’d peel out of school, down the concrete stairs and across the school yard to the wooden steps that led to the top of the bigger hill by the mill.
I ran poorly then. I was slow. Running in loose gumboots didn’t help. The other boys would tease me about my lack of speed and call me Wobbly Knees, Wagon Wheels and Chief Knock Knees. I hated the teasing.
I wanted to be fast. I wanted to blaze down that hill and disappear across the flat to the base of the hill that climbed to my home at the top. I wanted terribly to win one race and quiet their taunts forever. It seemed unlikely to happen.
But magic is a wonderful thing. It comes in forms unlike what your dreams call for. My foster brother brought home a stack of 45 records one night. They were rock ‘n’ roll records and in them was a song by a group called the Shangri Las. The song was called Leader of the Pack. It was about speed and wildness and the abandon of the open road. I loved that song and I learned all the words in no time. Even though it was about a motorcycle rebel, I imagined it was about me.
I ran around my neighborhood singing that song. It seemed to give me energy. I ran every day through the bush, along the road that led to the marina where my foster father docked his boat. I ran up the sides of the small gravel quarry that spilled out of the trees.
Every time I did, the words, the images and the feeling of that sound filled me and drove my arms and legs. A couple weeks later, when we raced home at lunch time, I sang it as I tore across the schoolyard. I passed everybody.
Me and my gumboots led the pack past the mill and home. As I ran along the flat I sang that song as loud as I could, arms pumping and legs driving and I felt as wild and free and rebellious as the kid in the song. My classmates were all stunned when we met at school later and they thumped me on the back. I felt included. I felt like a champion and I was extremely happy.
Well, I quit wearing gum boots soon after that. I was adopted and shunted south away from the bush and things like mills and rivers and hills strewn with trees. It would be years before I ran again and years before I had another pair of gumboots to clomp around in. But I never forgot that song. Whenever it came on the radio it always made me smile.
I run regularly now. But I run in high priced runners. I run in the mountains where there are trees and hills and views of lakes. I run with the feeling of freedom and abandon despite the effort. But there’s not a time when I clump around in my rubber boots that I don’t recall the day I became the leader of the pack in my gumboots, racing like the wind, singing and feeling free. Of such things are memories made.
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