Barefoot in Empire

“Barefooted and Carefree Until..”
by Lacy Barnett
While growing up in Creeltown during the 1930’s, there was a season that most boys, and girls, looked forward to – Spring and warm weather. Spring would bring out the best, and the worst, in most of us. Raging hormones were not a problem for us until a few years later.

When the month of March arrived, we started talking about when we would be able to go barefooted. Each parent had a different criteria to apply to the subject. We all felt that our particular parents were too strict in letting us take the shoes and socks off for the duration of the summer. The parents explained their decision based on their assumption that going barefooted too early could put us in bed with the flu or pneumonia.

The main concern by us individually was the problem of the “red rocks” on the roads in the Creeltown area. There were not any paved roads. The “red rocks” were a by-product of the coal mining operations. When the coal was mined underground, and brought to the surface for processing, there were a lot of rocks that were included. The tipple operation usually was successful in getting the rocks separated from the coal. The rocks were then channeled to a big pile.

A young Lacy Barnett

The rocks were red and gray. The Walker County highway department would spread these rocks on the roads. The primary purpose of doing this was to preclude the roads from becoming muddy and slippery during inclement weather periods. Naturally, the rocks served that purpose, but the rocks were hard on automobiles and the tires. A motorist that followed another car too closely, would likely have a cracked, or smashed, windshield from smaller rocks kicked up by the lead motorist.

The young lads, and lassies, were not concerned with any of the problems, except for one. The rocks were “murder” on the young and tender feet. Damage was done by stepping barefooted on a sharp-edged rock.
Equally, or maybe more dangerous, the rocks presented a wonderful opportunity for you to stump your toes while running at a fast pace. And believe me, that stumping process was a very painful one; however, you would never admit “defeat” and put your shoes back on. You were tough and you were not about to let anyone know that it had hurt, except on a very limited basis.

My sister, Lucy, and myself attended Phillips School in Coon Creek during my third and fourth grade years. To this day, I do not know why we switched schools for those two years. After completing the fourth grade at Phillips in 1936, we went back to Empire School, beginning in September 1936. Lucy was three years older than me. I have absolutely no recall of her attempting to be my boss during our school travels, always by foot. Nor do I recall that Lucy turned me in to my parents for misbehavior.

In late April 1936, the weather had moderated and I started my efforts to procure parental approval for me to shed my shoes and socks. In the opinion of my mother, it was too early to do so. I was raring to go barefooted but at the age of 9, you usually accept parental guidelines.

It was school policy that if you arrived at school barefooted, everything was OK. However, you simply were not permitted to arrive at school with your shoes on and take them off for the school day.

En route to school on one April day in 1936, I developed a grand idea. And no one would ever know the deceit that I was thinking about.

There was a culvert underneath the road en route to Phillips School. My grand idea was to take my shoes and socks off and place them in the culvert so that no one would see them. By arriving at school barefooted, I would be in the clear for that day. Then my plan was to leave school in the afternoon, walk back to the culvert, put my socks and shoes back on, and proceed back to my home. By arriving home with them on, my mother would never know my grand strategy of the day.

My property was placed in the culvert. Upon arrival at school, I was “flying high.” And there were not any rocks on the school ground that would be a problem to my tender feet. Lehman Robbins was in my class and he was one of my best friends. Lehman immediately congratulated me on getting my parent’s permission to be barefooted, and wanted to know how I had been able to do it.
During the day, I confided in Lehman and a couple of other boys, and let them know what I had done. In their eyes, I was the “smartest” kid around.

At some point during the day, Lehman asked me what would happen to my shoes and socks if it rained that day? Or even worse, what about someone finding them in the culvert and taking off with them?

Lehman’s questions and comments really put me in a high anxiety state. I could not take my eyes off the outside of the school, looking for a storm to arrive, or rain to begin. I would get momentary relief from my anxiety feelings. Then my fears would go to the possibility of someone taking my property from the culvert during the day.

In 1936, the depression was in full bloom. No one had much money, and all of us really appreciated a good pair of shoes. How would my parents be able to afford a new pair of shoes for me? I was fully aware that if something happened to my shoes, and they were lost, I would get a good whipping when I arrived home.

During the day I “died a thousand deaths.” I saw Lucy during one of our recess periods and told her that as soon as school was out, I was going immediately to recover my property.

When the bell rang that afternoon denoting that school was out, I took off at the highest speed I could generate. I ran past Oscar Owens’ grocery store, and picking up additional speed, I passed Sally Stacks’ home. The culvert was about half way between the Stacks’ house and the Corley’s home. The red rocks were playing havoc with my tender feet but that was the “smallest” of my problems at that particular time.

Upon arrival at the culvert, I was greatly relieved to find that my shoes and socks were still there as I had left them that morning. I put them on and waited for Lucy to arrive so that we could proceed on to our home in Creeltown.

My deceit of that day was never discovered by my teacher, nor by my parents. The anxiety endured was sufficient punishment to me. It taught me a valuable lesson and I never repeated such a strategy. I waited until my parents gave me permission to go barefooted.

Unfortunately, in April 1940, we lost Lucy (age 16) to strep throat and rheumatic fever.

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