When my father returned home from World War II, he left most of the reminders of Army life behind.
He had other things on his mind, namely a newlywed wife and a strong desire to get on with his life. Besides a couple of trunks that sat in our attic never opened for years and a pair of old worn combat boots, that portion of his life seemed buried.
As children, we would gather the few items he did retrieve and play army in our backyard. Two older shelter halves and some rickety poles served as our headquarters, and we huddled in what we called our bivouac and made plans to defeat the Germans.
I had my father’s old canteen, a few badges and medals whose meanings I hadn’t a clue and an old hat from his days as a lieutenant in the quartermaster corps.
It seemed my friends had much more WWII paraphernalia, and some wore old uniforms, wore battle worn knapsacks and bragged that their father still had a knife from the war. How lucky could a kid get, I thought to myself.
I never paid much attention to the old boots, but, they somehow seemed like his most valued memento from his war days. Despite my mother’s insistence that we throw the old eyesores out, he managed to hang on to those boots.
We only saw him wear the boots when it snowed, and while the rest of us struggled with non-forgiving rubber boots, he slipped on what must have been familiar feeling boots.
He would tuck in his tailored pants in to the worn boots, and as he stood outside, you could sense the boots transformed him to his days in the Army. We thought the boots looked funny with his pleated pant legs tucked neatly around the tops, but we showed him and the boots the respect they deserved.
As the years passed, the boots were relegated to a corner in our furnace room. Each year, they became more weathered and worn, finally approaching what looked to be an unwearable condition.
The boots were there on Christmas Eve, 1960, when he died unexpectedly from a massive heart attack. My mother always believed my father’s time in the Army contributed to his early demise, and the boots became a reminder of that sad reality, but, somehow, they survived and remained tucked in that corner, undisturbed.
Decades later I returned to my mother’s house to change the filter on the furnace, and noticed that the boots were no longer there. I didn’t ask. I didn’t have to. I was convinced the boots had finally received their just reward from my mother.
Years later, when my mother passed, my daughter and I were cleaning out an old jewelry box and discovered all of those old medals we wore as children tucked away in a small pouch. The fact she had saved the faded silver and gold bars, the brightly colored decorations from the campaigns in which he served and the numerous patches from his uniforms surprised me. It shouldn’t have.
I realized that because those things were important to my father, they were valuable to my mother, an important memento of a span in his life.
I immediately thought of those boots and had a degree of lament as I considered their fate.
Years later, the furnace finally quit and had to be replaced and I went by the house to watch as workers removed the old furnace. After much banging and tearing, the old behemoth surrendered.
The old furnace room was empty for the first time in my lifetime, and sitting from what must have been a position behind the old furnace, sat those old boots.
I surmised that my mother garnered the fortitude to move the boots, but couldn’t bring herself to throw them out.
The boots now sit in my closet, and hopefully, someone will take the care to preserve them once that clean out takes place.
As beaten as they are, they are precious to me because they were important to my father and eventually important to my mother.
And that makes them priceless to me.