Q: I was born in Fort Worth and raised in West Texas and repatriated to the Lone Star State a year and a half ago after twenty-four and a half years in Massachusetts. Upon my divorce about twenty years ago, I bought a very nice pair of Lucchese full-quill ostrich boots. I would wear these for special occasions and to parties in Massachusetts to show off my Texan roots. On two separate occasions, I was complimented with the following sentence: “I sure like your shoes.” Both times I was left with not much to say other than “Thank you.” What was the proper response?
Ben Graves, San Antonio
A: The Texanist likes your style, Mr. Graves, he must say. Even though he is unfamiliar with the particulars of your split-up and even though it’s really none of his business, the Texanist would be remiss in not letting you know, whatever the circumstances may have been, that he appreciates the fact that you commemorated the event with a pair of fancy Lucchese boots. And congratulations on your twenty years together. That’s quite a milestone. The Texanist hopes y’all were able to celebrate the occasion with a good shine and a night spent tripping the light fantastic. Here’s to the happy couple!
There’s nothing quite like a quality pair of boots. The Texanist has known a few in his days and even has a pair of Luccheses that he’s been smitten with for going on twenty years himself. Oh, if those old boots could talk. Alas, the Texanist wisely had them sign a nondisclosure agreement soon after their inaugural night out on the town. The last thing the Texanist needs is some sort of sensational tell-all covering the most intimate details of the last two decades of his life.
The Texanist jests, of course. But it’s a fact that when a Texan purchases a pair of boots, he (or she) has not merely settled for any old set of foot coverings. No sir, that person has entered into a solemn bond that is not too dissimilar from the sort of bond that is pledged between consenting humans. Sure, there are the inevitable rough patches that come with the break-in period, but as time goes by and the wearer and the boot become familiarized with each other’s quirks, well, the relationship becomes effortless and comfortable. Sunset horseback rides through wildflower-filled meadows, sweaty nights scooting around the dancehall, and long walks home after being let down by the truck’s battery, through thick and thin, the boots just “get” you and, likewise, you “get” the boots. It could turn out to be a lifelong thing.
The connection between Texans and their boots goes back to the heyday of the cowboy, when young pokes filled with derring-do were driving cattle beyond the borders to strange lands such as California, Colorado, and Kansas. Riding boots, in general, predated the cattle drives by more than a century, but the footwear that evolved from early Hessian boots of Germany and the British Wellingtons that followed them is an innovation of the cowboy.
During the days of the great cattle drives—from about 1866 to 1890—cowboys began asking for boots with a slimmer design, higher heels (better stay in the stirrup), more rounded toes (roomier), and sturdier insteps than were available at the time. It didn’t take long before Texas bootmakers such as H.J. “Big Daddy Joe” Justin, who in 1878 hung his shingle in Spanish Fort, in Montague County, just off the Chisholm Trail, and Sam Lucchese, who founded Lucchese in San Antonio in 1883, were booting all manner of Texans, including, eventually, the wannabe cowboys spawned by the popular radio and silver screen versions of the Old West mythos who may not have ever even seen a horse, but liked to look as if they could mount up at a moment’s notice. Texas may not have single-handedly invented the cowboy boot, but the cowboy boot certainly played a part in the invention of Texas—both the mythic Texas and the actual Texas. The association was even formalized in 2007, when the Legislature made the cowboy boot the official State Footwear of Texas.
All of this is to say, you made a fine choice when you swapped your helpmeet for the full-quill ostrich Luccheses all those years ago. Again, the Texanist didn’t know the woman to whom you were previously married and is only guessing, but full-quill ostrich is the finest of ostrich leathers. In wanting to show off your Texan heritage a little bit, you couldn’t have a made better choice; a ten-gallon hat would have been too much, as would have an enormous trophy buckle. The boots were perfect.
The strange comments from the Bay Staters you encountered are quite puzzling and the Texanist can understand your flummox. “I sure like your shoes?” What an odd thing to say to a man in boots. What’s particularly confounding is that in addition to being known for cod fishing, clam chowder, and baked beans, Massachusetts is also hailed as the “Capital of Higher Education” and was, believe it or not, previously known as the “Shoe Capital of the World.” It’s true. A long time ago, cobblers were to Massachusetts as cowboys were to Texas. Thus, one would have thought that folks from a state known for smarts and footwear would be capable of distinguishing a spiffy cowboy boot from an average everyday shoe.
And, yet, the Texanist has to think that the sideways compliments were the result of plain ignorance rather than some sort of malicious disparagement. So “Thank you” was the correct response. Unless the Texanist is wrong and you did detect a whiff of mean-spiritedness, in which case the proper retort would have been, “Thanks. But they’re boots, you chowderheaded Masshole!” After all, a man (or a woman) must the defend the honor of his (or her) boots. If the opportunity were to arise, you can bet your, well, boots that they’d do it for you.
Have a question for the Texanist? He’s always available here. Be sure to tell him where you’re from.