Leather Eulogy

Published online: Jun 14, 2021 Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This column appears in the June 2021 issue of Potato Grower Magazine.

Well, that about does it. I guess it’s time to say goodbye.

They’re just a pair of old Rhino lace-up cowboy boots; there’s really nothing special about them. They were purchased, as I recall, for a cool $59.99 from the C-A-L Ranch store in Burley in the spring of my junior year of high school after the brand-name boots I’d been tromping around in suddenly and inexplicably fell apart. I fully expected the Rhinos to follow suit by the end of the summer.

But they didn’t. They fit perfectly in the stirrups of my hand-me-down saddle, so they went with me to a dozen or so high school rodeos and over countless miles of high desert and mountain pasture. Under a thick coat of spit and polish, they accompanied me to the junior prom. The next morning, they squelched through the mud with me as Dad and I cleaned out the eroding ditch that delivered water to the corral.

They tagged along as I worked building grain bins the summer after graduation. They came to college with me, and I was wearing them the first time I kissed the girl who became my wife. When we bought our first home, the Rhinos came too, hanging out in the garage until called upon to do a job deemed too grimy or dusty or otherwise unsavory for the pampered footwear in the hall closet.

The old Rhinos are on their fourth or fifth pair of laces. Somewhere along the way, the decorative fringe on the right toe fell off. A cloud of dust rises from them with every step. The number listed on the inside tag is a size smaller than every other pair of shoes I own. But dadgum it if they aren’t still as comfortable as all get-out. For more than a decade and a half, those boots have been an underappreciated, under-cared-for partner, outlasting a few vehicles, a passel of cell phones, and several of their more expensive podiatric contemporaries. Like Alex Trebek or the Energizer Bunny, they have been the very definition of reliable.

Until now. Now, the crack in the left sole has made its way all the way across and up to my actual foot. A simple walk across the backyard fills the boot with all manner of dirt, grass and foreign objects. I’m afraid that no amount of Shoe Goo is going to repair this particular breach. And it bums me out just a little.

Throwing the Rhinos out has never crossed my mind. Sure, my initial expectations for them were pretty low, but after a while, I just took for granted that I’d always have them at my disposal. Now that their disposal is imminent, I realize I’m going to miss these old boots that have never received their just recognition.

In an age where it always seems there’s a race to grab and show off the shiniest, flashiest toy — the newest phone, the newest car, the newest piece of news to be outraged about — there’s something comforting, peaceful, even strengthening about the things (and indeed, people) that have always been there, quietly doing their job, neither asking for nor expecting any fanfare. We may not always be drawn to them, easily distracted beings that we are, but we certainly rely on them. This isn’t to bash new technologies and innovations; we absolutely need those things. But there is undeniable value in the old things, and I think that worth is more than just sentimental.

From churches and castles to teacups and baseball cards, human beings draw strength, joy and inspiration from the memories drummed up by all our old stuff. Grandma’s cottage on the lake. Dad’s two-tone Chevy that belches black smoke and guzzles oil like it’s Gatorade. That slowly yellowing wedding dress in the closet. A Panasonic VCR. A cheap, worn-out pair of cowboy boots.

Does anything last forever? Is it meant to? I don’t know. I seem to have a knack for coming up with these heavy existential questions, but no skill in answering them. What I do know is that I’m grateful for the things and people that, thanks or no thanks, are always there when I need them.