“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
~ Anäis Nin
There is something about boots. My daddy was a paratrooper in the Army, and when I was a little girl, people respected soldiers wearing big, black, paratrooper boots. Those boots symbolized power and courage. At age five, I decided I wanted to be a paratrooper when I grew up—or a cowgirl.
Roy Rogers had a television show at that time, and I was obsessed with all things cowboy. That Christmas when Mama sewed me a cowgirl outfit and Santa brought me a hat, pistols, and boots, I was in heaven. All dressed up, I felt powerful and courageous. I imagined living on a ranch somewhere out west and riding my own palomino.
The farthest west I ever made it was El Paso, Texas where Daddy was stationed at Ft. Bliss. There was a stable at the end of our street and I learned to ride by climbing over fences, onto the bare backs of horses after the ranch hands had gone home. I begged my parents for my own horse, but the best they could do was take me to riding stables. There, I mounted horses with western saddles and rode as fast and long as I could.
The next (and last) time I wore a cowgirl outfit was my senior year at Mesquite High School, in Mesquite, Texas. I was on the All Stars Drill Team, marching and high-kicking during halftime at Friday night football games. (Go Skeeters!)
After high school, I bounced around for sixteen years before moving to Chicago in 1982. Here, I rediscovered boots (a wardrobe essential during our long hard winters) but never had another pair of cowgirl boots—until last November. My husband and I were in Austin, Texas for a wedding and I had a sudden hankering to buy myself some boots.
At the massive boot store, I locked in on a pair of Lucchese’s—black ostrich with delicate red and gray stitching up the sides—and wandered from mirror to mirror convincing myself of the practicality of the extravagant purchase I knew I was going to make.
Getting ready to go out that night, I pulled on my boots, stood up, and suddenly I got it! I understood what cowboy boots are all about. I stood taller and straighter. I felt courageous—like I could take on anything and anybody. I felt kickass powerful! My girlfriend Jan in Arizona—who is a real cowgirl—calls this, “Putting on your cowgirl.”
Although I’ve long outgrown my cowgirl outfits, I’ve never outgrown the longing to be all that a cowgirl symbolizes. I’ve never thought of myself as courageous. Throughout my life, I’ve faced extraordinary challenges, but I’ve just done whatever needed to be done in the moment. I was raised to believe that’s what people do—especially women. My mother and both my grandmothers were strong, capable women—and that’s how I’ve always thought of myself—strong and capable—not courageous.
Being shy and private, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done was create my website and write a personal blog exposing myself to the world. Before posting my last essay, I had a number of people read it, and as the comments accumulated on how brave and courageous I was to share my story, I almost chickened out!
But, knowing what needed to be done—I pulled on my cowgirl boots and awakened my inner cowgirl! Standing strong and tall, I posted my essay and immediately felt liberated. The responses I received were heartwarming, supportive, and grateful. All that week, I wore my cowgirl boots to work, walked proud and tall—and felt courageous. I also felt part of something enormous, powerful, and universally important. There is something about boots—but I learned that real power comes from reaching deep inside and finding your own internal courage.
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