One, Two, I Can Buckle My Shoe

Spring is a time for new things. On the farm there were cute barnyard babies to be petted, new green grass to be run through barefoot, and the redolence of new apple blossoms to be savored. And always, there was a family of robins in the lilac bush in the front yard. For the parent birds there was no time for seeing, hearing and smelling the excitement of the season. They were completely dedicated to the open mouths and the demanding cries of their young.

It was approaching evening on a beautiful spring day, still cool enough for shoes and a sweater. It was an exciting time to be in the barnyard with the baby calves, pigs, and fuzzy little yellow and black chicks. Momma announced that it was feeding time, and I expectantly put on my shoes and waited for her to tie them. To my surprise, she stepped over me as I sat in the doorway, with a quick, “You can do it.” I looked up at my sister, Mildred. She was always an easy touch. “I can’t tie them!” I whined. She hoisted my baby sister on her hip and went out the door, quoting the phrase that was often uttered in our household: “Can’t is a coward, too lazy to try.” Winifred would be no help. She was busy in the kitchen with preparation for the evening meal.

No doubt about it, they were all conspiring against me. I sat in the doorway screaming. When I stopped occasionally to see if there was any response, I could hear the calves frisking through the gate, being turned in to their mothers, and the piglets squealing as they tumbled over each other to get the food that was being poured into their feeding trough. I could envision baby Garnetta throwing the ears of corn to the grown-up pigs from the safety of the fence while Mildred held her securely, and Momma shelling corn for the chickens clucking and scrambling for it. I could hear the delighted laughter of my baby sister and the voices of Mildred and Momma. I could be enjoying the activity, too, if someone would only tie my shoes for me!

My yelling continued until I suddenly realized that no one was listening. I stopped abruptly, and in the silence I could hear the clock whose gentle ticking was always a source of comfort to me. It seemed to be taunting me now, ticking “You can, you can, you can!”

I turned my attention halfheartedly to the limp shoe laces and made a perfunctory attempt. Then I tried again, and again, until I became absorbed in what I was doing. I began to remember the steps they had shown me, starting with making “rabbit ears.” At last I got it all together! I jumped up and started to the barn. I almost tripped on the one that came loose, but I sat down in the road and went through the steps again carefully.

As I neared my sisters I felt both good and bad at once, embarrassed and excited, ashamed and pleased: ashamed that I had raised such a fuss, but pleased that I had conquered the shoe laces. Would they notice what I had done? Would Mildred make fun of me? Would Momma scold me for my tantrum?

Mercifully, no one said a word about the ordeal. No one praised my achievement, and no one reprimanded my foolishness. For this I was grateful. As if nothing had happened, Momma handed me the ear of corn she was shelling and went off to do the milking. We finished the feeding chores with a little time left to play with the animals before the sun slipped behind the ridge.

The birds in the lilac bush eventually grew large enough to find their own food. It looked so cruel and heartless when the mother bird urged them to the edge of the nest, then ruthlessly pushed them overboard while they protested loudly. It is hard to leave the comfort of the care of someone older and wiser. But the mother bird probably felt the distress of her young as she did what she had to do. My mother was not deaf to my pleas. No doubt she was mentally sitting with me, agonizing over my frustration, but knowing that fledglings have to fly.

September, 1998