My parents have always loved the poem The Barefoot Boy by John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). My mom was the first to introduce me to it a long time ago, and now, I’m so grateful that I have my own barefoot boy. And, Sullivan is always barefoot. Even on long walks to the park, he refuses to wear his shoes.
Sully is growing tall and fast. He is kind and athletic; silly and loves dinosaurs. He tells me all about them, including the Philosoraptor that sucks blood when it’s hungry, even its own blood! He loves to gross me out. It makes him laugh when I wince. The other day I had to take him to get four immunizations, and he was such a perfect little patient, no wiggling around, pulling away, or freaking out. I was so proud of him.
When I was in the 4th grade, we lived in a small, West Texas town where the county set up a makeshift immunization clinic once a year. I swear, every kid in that town showed up on the same day and formed an impossibly long line all the way out the door and around the corner. It was Generation X. Together we awaited our turn to be vaccinated against the measles and the mumps – behind the mint green hospital curtain mounted on pipes with rollers.
Only one kid screamed louder than me that day; a little Hispanic kid whose mother spoke no English. It was the mid to late 70s and most of the white people in that town referred to the Mexicans as wetbacks. I honestly thought they called them that because they were always drenched in sweat working hard in the heat of the Permian Basin. Anyway, despite the language barriers, that kid and I were thinking the same thing. The needle that was going to shoot us was the size of a bullet.
After Sully’s vaccinations, I took him for a cupcake and hot chocolate at Cuppies and Joe. I didn’t have time to make it a special day, but I didn’t have time not to either. I was once a little girl playing in the streets, Sigman, London Lane, and Harrison Avenue. When the streetlights came on I’d run home in the cool of night, no shoes, no jacket. I loved the freedom of dusk and barefoot, so I try not to worry too much about that renegade shards of glass in the driveway when my kids go out to play. Ere it passes, barefoot boy!
The Barefoot Boy
by John Greenleaf Whittier
Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy, with cheek of tan!
With thy turned-up pantaloons,
And thy merry whistled tunes;
With thy red lip, redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill;
With the sunshine on thy face,
Through thy torn brim’s jaunty grace;
From my heart I give thee joy,—
I was once a barefoot boy!
Prince thou art,—the grown-up man
Only is republican.
Let the million-dollared ride!
Barefoot, trudging at his side,
Thou hast more than he can buy
In the reach of ear and eye,—
Outward sunshine, inward joy:
Blessings on thee, barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s painless play,
Sleep that wakes in laughing day,
Health that mocks the doctor’s rules,
Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee’s morning chase,
Of the wild-flower’s time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood;
How the tortoise bears his shell,
How the woodchuck digs his cell,
And the ground-mole sinks his well;
How the robin feeds her young,
How the oriole’s nest is hung;
Where the whitest lilies blow,
Where the freshest berries grow,
Where the ground-nut trails its vine,
Where the wood-grape’s clusters shine;
Of the black wasp’s cunning way,
Mason of his walls of clay,
And the architectural plans
Of gray hornet artisans!
For, eschewing books and tasks,
Nature answers all he asks;
Hand in hand with her he walks,
Face to face with her he talks,
Part and parcel of her joy,—
Blessings on the barefoot boy!
Oh for boyhood’s time of June,
Crowding years in one brief moon,
When all things I heard or saw,
Me, their master, waited for.
I was rich in flowers and trees,
Humming-birds and honey-bees;
For my sport the squirrel played,
Plied the snouted mole his spade;
For my taste the blackberry cone
Purpled over hedge and stone;
Laughed the brook for my delight
Through the day and through the night,
Whispering at the garden wall,
Talked with me from fall to fall;
Mine the sand-rimmed pickerel pond,
Mine the walnut slopes beyond,
Mine, on bending orchard trees,
Apples of Hesperides!
Still as my horizon grew,
Larger grew my riches too;
All the world I saw or knew
Seemed a complex Chinese toy,
Fashioned for a barefoot boy!
Oh for festal dainties spread,
Like my bowl of milk and bread;
Pewter spoon and bowl of wood,
On the door-stone, gray and rude!
O’er me, like a regal tent,
Cloudy-ribbed, the sunset bent,
Purple-curtained, fringed with gold,
Looped in many a wind-swung fold;
While for music came the play
Of the pied frogs’ orchestra;
And, to light the noisy choir,
Lit the fly his lamp of fire.
I was monarch: pomp and joy
Waited on the barefoot boy!
Cheerily, then, my little man,
Live and laugh, as boyhood can!
Though the flinty slopes be hard,
Stubble-speared the new-mown sward,
Every morn shall lead thee through
Fresh baptisms of the dew;
Every evening from thy feet
Shall the cool wind kiss the heat:
All too soon these feet must hide
In the prison cells of pride,
Lose the freedom of the sod,
Like a colt’s for work be shod,
Made to tread the mills of toil,
Up and down in ceaseless moil:
Happy if their track be found
Never on forbidden ground;
Happy if they sink not in
Quick and treacherous sands of sin.
Ah! that thou couldst know thy joy,
Ere it passes, barefoot boy!