When I was four my parents bought me a pair of red cowboy boots. By day I wore them riding my black and white painted pony, Starfire. She lived in my bedroom, and we galloped so fast that her springs twanged and the metal frame that supported her lifted from the carpeted floor. By night I slept with my boots on, like a real cowboy.
One Christmas before kids my husband’s gift to me was a pair of red Justin Roper’s. I’ve had these resoled twice. The silver hooks that secure the laces have loosened over the years. The hooks poke out and the laces slip loose; the hooks poke in and scrape my shins. My Ropers aren’t so comfortable anymore, but I will never donate them or throw them away. I will let them gather dust—not from walking dirt roads, like a real cowboy, but from lying at the back of my closet until I can find the means and time to have them repaired yet again.
For my 40th birthday, one of my closest friends, a sister to me, gave me a pair of red, tooled, roach-killers by Justin. When life allowed, I worn these boots with nearly the same devotion as I did my first pair—going shopping, dancing, to the opera and weddings and readings and plays and church, with jeans and dresses and, to my Oklahoma cousin’s chagrin, with shorts.
If I were currently writing advertising copy about shoes, which I have been known to do in the past, I might be tempted to offer up this boot-copy option to my Creative Director: “Sole Mates.” My 40th birthday Justin’s have been my sole mates over the last decade.
Recently, I was back in Oklahoma again, doing research for another book I hope to write down the line (possibly a sequel to While He Was Away), and visiting family, including my dear, chagrined cousin. My daughter was with me this time. The first day of our arrival, my family drove us into the city to the Paseo Art Fair. We stumbled upon a wild thrift shop called Dust Bones. My daughter became enamored with a used pair of blue and brown Justin Roper’s. They were too big for her. But hope and joy bloomed in my heart because a seed had been planted in hers.
A few days later we took a short road trip from Edmond to Guthrie. Guthrie was Oklahoma’s first state capital. (Just ask any resident of Guthrie.) The building are gorgeous—rich, red stone, ornately embellished, late 19th century. We found the abandoned hospital, which my cousin’s boy swears is haunted. We trolled the two-lane streets.
Then we came upon this place.
The proprietor, Mr. Dorwart, was elegant, gentle, and calm, with kind blue eyes and a gray handlebar mustache. He took off his hat to me and his hair was as black and slick as shoe polish. He talked boots only after he had talked dogs and boys with my cousin—Mr. Dowart’s own boy’s boy, who sported a black eye from a mis-thrown basebal, was making his first pair of boots that very day.
Mr. Dorwart’s signature style involves butterflies.
He made many butterfly boots for his boy. These now line his shelves, along with the innumerable patterns and forms Mr. Dorwart has made to fit his customers’ feet.
On this day, while his boy’s boy stitched butterflies, Mr. Dorwart was finishing up a pair of boots for a woman who’d woke dreaming of a verse from Psalm 28. He’d stitched the verse into a winged heart on each of her boots-to-be.
He showed me the forms he’d made, which made allowances for her bunions, her hammer toes. Something about the gentle way Mr. Dorwart ran his fingers over imperfections in the smooth wood, in the tender models of her feet, made me think of Jesus, kneeling before his disciples, washing away the dust of the day.
As we left the store, Mr. Dorwart gave me a copy of the calendar that he makes each year with his wife. It is titled: Cowboy’s Prayers & Praises, 2012. Each page features pictures of a cowboy or cowgirl, and their favorite Bible verse and testimony. It’s printed in sepia. There is no irony here. I find it surprisingly moving.
I am leafing through calendar right now, post-bunionectomy, not a week after meeting Mr. Dorwart. I am in bed with my foot in a cast. There is a bolt holding together and reshaping the amazing instrument that is my right foot. Boots are a long way down the road for me. But someday, if we have the spare change, I will contact Mr. Dorwart. I will make another trip to Guthrie. I will wait the eleven months it will take for him to fashion me a pair of sole mates for my next decade or two, God willing and the cows come home.