Bootism Disease

Bootism Diseasolumn for Oct 11-17
My family has a genetic disease called bootism. It’s a rare disease that affects only ranch families, but knowing that there are other families like ours all over the country with too many boots is reassuring.  The disease can infect a person at infancy, as it did with both of my kids, and is often carried into adulthood. A common place where bootism strikes is at a baby shower. Someone gives the newborn his or her first pair of cowboy boots. The moment a baby’s feet are exposed to boots, they become infected. 

This disease is powerful because ranch families are unable to reject most free boots, regardless of whether or not the boots are the right size for one of their family members. All boots received will eventually end up on a ranch kid’s feet. If one family doesn’t have someone who can wear them, then the boots either go dormant for a while or get passed on to a family who may have someone with eligible feet. Our boots lie dormant in places like a closet, the attic, the porch, or hung from the rafters of the shop.

Grownups can be affected by bootism because ranchers and ranch wives wear them on a daily basis for chores, horseback riding, and special occasions. A tough pair doesn’t die off easily or completely either, making them hard to purge. Once a ranch kid quits growing, boots start to accumulate. 

The reasons why adult boots on ranches are hard to get rid of vary. A pair might only go with one outfit because of its unique color; they’re “parts” boots for the laces or fringe kiltie; they’re kept as backups, keepsakes, or as an example of how much abuse cowboy boots can take. A boot style becomes unpopular, but the boots are kept in case it makes a comeback, they become uncomfortable to wear only after a couple of hours, somebody plans to take them in for repairs someday, or the owner is so embarrassed to admit buying such hideous looking boots that he or she doesn’t even want the garbage man to see them.  

Sometimes there’s only one thing wrong with a pair, which isn’t enough to justify tossing because of the money that was spent on them: the sole or stitching came apart, they eat socks, rub a blister, or become reserved for special duties. My husband’s old lace ups are only worn for water-related work in deep stock tanks, springs, well housings, and dams. 

A cure for bootism hasn’t been pursued because the disease doesn’t interfere with one’s ability to enjoy life and ranch families are also known for being hospitable. Boots aren’t given up on regardless of their flaws, which makes for a lot of happy soles.


Column for Oct. 11-17, 2009


Seeing ranch kids wearing this particular footwear as they grow becomes commonplace. Because kids outgrow clothes and footwear so fast, ranch families regularly exchange boots back and forth in order to get the good out of them. Bootism among kids occurs through direct contact from the hands of other ranch families when handing a pair over and through boxes or bags of hand-me-down clothing. The condition has a tendency to spread, whether boots are active or dormant. Inactive ones generally don’t surface until a kid is able to fit into them.

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