I have referred previously to Bill’s boots. Susie was my seventh grade English teacher and Homeroom czarina. I admit, I was probably an acquired taste for her husband Bill, but over the years, Bill became as much a mentor and friend to me as his dear wife. As we progressed in life, the relationship changed and grew, the difference in our ages became less important. The low point was probably a day in about 1963 or 1964 when he got really angry with me for throwing snowballs at him while he was standing on a ladder changing light bulbs on the used car lot. There are a lot of good memories, but the one that, while ironic, will always remain with me, was the day that I walked into Susie’s kitchen for my occasional Saturday morning cup of coffee. Bill poked me in the gut and said, “Johnny, you need to go on a diet” I had “grown” to about 250 as the result of a shoulder injury that put a stop to my regular exercise of biking and racquetball.
He patted his middle and said, “you need to go on my diet – I’ve lost 18 pounds”. I had already been on every “diet” known to man, so I probably paid less attention than I should have. He did look trimmer, and at that point still had that goofy smile, and twinkle in his eye. The son of a furrier/farmer Bill loved hunting, fishing, his family, UpNorth and horses. Well, Bill’s “diet” turned out to be colon cancer, and after a long battle, it was thought he was cured, but they decided on one more round. It seemed to work. Only a few months later, as I recall, he had a massive stroke, lingered a couple of days, and the call came from his son, Billy, that his dad was gone.
At Bill’s funeral, in place of a casket, there was a small pine tree and his hunting boots at the front of the Presbyterian church. it was hard to grieve, but I did. in the past decade, I had lost my dad, my father-in-law, my “second dad”, Clarence “Peg” Koeppler, my close friend Don Wright, Clancy the best bird dog I ever owned, and my brother Sam and couple of other friends and mentors. I was shell-shocked. there had been so much hope for his recovery, and now death came at him from another direction.
It was several months later that Susie called me. “I have some things of Bill’s that I think he would have liked you to have.” I rolled that conversation over in my head again and again, and finally worked up the courage to go over and face her – I wondered what the Bill-less Susie would be like. I wondered what she had in mind, because any little memento of Bill.would be a treasure to me, not to mention the fact that there were two grown sons in the picture, that would certainly trump me. I barged in the kitchen door, as I always do. A few minutes later Susie appeared. we had a little conversational sparring, as I couldn’t be sure what she was feeling, and as always, shared a cup of coffee, which always pulls everything together.
Eventually we migrated to the basement where all of Bill’s hunting gear and footgear were neatly positioned on a shelf. I was shocked, because what ever Bill was, I had never known him to be all that neat, but then most of my time had been spent in his shop, looking for stuff. She pointed to “those” boots. “Try them on…” I froze. A pair of old school insulated Danner High Countrys. I also noted a pair of run-over insulated pull-on boots. “you can have those too, I was just going to toss them.” I knew Bill loved the Danner’s – any cold weather hunter would be happy to have them. “Try them on.” They were a perfect fit, and I’m pretty particular about keeping my feet comfortable, and have been ever since my paper route days when boots weren’t “cool” and I was just as likely as anything to wear leaky hand laced loafers without regard for the weather. As I pulled them off, the emotion gripped me – for an outdoors guy, his boots are right up there with his favorite shotgun and a good dog. “I can’t take these, you have two sons who should be in line for these, why me?” I was hoping to infuse a sense of duty into this to resolve my conflict. In her typically Susie way, and now she was talking as gently as she would have to a troubled seventh grader, “Because, Johnny, you’re the only other person I know that wears size 13 Boots”.
The Danners sit on a similar shelf, worn more than a few times, late season hunting trips to South Dakota, a few field trials in late season in places like the Colorado grasslands and the west face of Utah’s Wasatch. It has been subtle, but although Bill and I never got to take the hunting trip to Alaska we always talked about, but his boots have been on some good ones since he left us. As for the run down, insulated pull-on boots that look worse than they wear, I wore them every morning to take care of the dogs when we had enough dogs to have outside kennels, and now I wear them any time I need to go outside and am too lazy to put real shoes or boots on.