Saturday, October 6, 2012


Everyone loves a bargain and my Mother was no exception. On a limited income of pastor and teacher, Mom kept us well fed and clothed. We didn't have what some would consider luxury items, but then again we had no idea what we were missing. Dad's salary, basically volunteer, put us well below the poverty line, but we were happy.

There were some sharp-eyed bargain hunters at Prairie that continually shopped for good deals. This was long before reality shows such as Bargain Hunters, American Pickers, etc. Come to think of it the whole shootin' shebang at Prairie would have made an incredible reality show!

On one of the purchasing departments forays into Calgary, they stumbled on an entire shoe and boot shop that was going out of business. Purchasing the whole lot, it was packed up and transported out to the campus. There the contents were set up in a couple of large rooms. Boots and shoes of every color, size and description were to be sold at a fraction of the retail cost. Mom was in line bright and early the day of the sale. She purchased some shoes for herself, Dad and us boys. She also found what we determined to be the "Deal of the Day".

The deal of the day was a pair of rubber boots, rain boots or gum boots as we called them. These were no ordinary gum boots. Oh, no, these were special. They were made to look like cowboy boots. Red rubber piping around the top complemented red toes and heels. They even came complete with little rubber spurs and a horse on each side. We thought we had died and gone to cowboy heaven. We wore those little boots around even when there was not a hint of rain in the forecast. I remember walking around in the summer wearing only cutoffs and my special boots. We thought we were the height of fashion, stopping just short of wearing them to bed. We made lassos out of nylon rope and pretended our bikes were horses. This was big stuff.

As it turned out, my Mother was not the only one at the sale that day. Our neighbor, Mrs. Imbach was also there stocking up for her family. The Imbach's had a large family and the two youngest boys, Alan and Mark were a few years older than us. We looked up to these guys as heroes. They were good looking, musical jocks that seemed to be able to play any sport well and always had a plethora of girls at their beck and call. They would also take time to throw and catch a baseball with us, toss a football or help fix a wayward bicycle chain. What wasn't there to like?

I think we would all agree to the need for rules and guidelines in the running of any educational institute. I honestly don't think anyone started out to write an encyclopedia of rules, but as every year went on, more and more rules got added. Then there were rules about the rules and so on and so on.

There was one rule that forbade the wearing of cowboy boots indoors. A strange rule indeed until you understand the why. The "why" was to help preserve the floors. We didn't have the luxury in Alberta of having hardwoods like oak, maple and ash like many parts of Canada and the US. Most of the floors were made of a soft pine, cut and milled at Prairie's own lumber mill, miles from campus, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The floors were varnished and would quite easily wear or dent. The sharp heel of a ladies shoe or cowboy boot delivered with a purposeful walk could actually damage the floor. It wasn't that the administration didn't like cowboys or had something in for those who wore cowboy boots, it was simply a practical rule. What had its genesis as a simple rule began to take on a life of its own and was added to and interpreted in many ways. Some felt that cowboy boots signaled rebellion and “bad attitude”, right up there with the sin of boys sporting duck-tails as part of their hair fashion.

Mark and Alan showed up at school wearing their newly acquired red and black rubber "cowboy" boots. The Principal at the time, whom I will call Mr. Fischmann, took one look at the offending footwear and deemed that particular offense to fit under Rule 10, subsection C, which covered the wearing of cowboy boots. He confiscated the contraband and made the boys return home, walking only in their stocking feet. This, my friends, is legalism run amok. The Principal was so intent on following what to his thinking was the letter of the law, he missed the entire point of the rule in the first place.

I am thankful every day that I was raised in a "legalism free" home, but I have certainly been exposed to its tentacles for many years and can smell its putrid stench from a mile away.

If you find yourself in the abyss of legalism or slowly sinking into the mire, may I encourage you to pause, take a time out and consider the why. I can assure you that I have never seen much good come from legalism and the collateral damage that it causes is deep and hurtful. Instead, let's all try and practice mercy, peace, tolerance, love and understanding.

I love that saying about never judging a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes . . . or boots . . . or maybe even stocking feet.

Dave and I in our rubber cowboy boots

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.


  1. Thanks for this story. Legalism is a killer of the spirit.

  2. P.S. Jumping through the hoops to comment on this blog is also a killer of the spirit. I hope you'll consider removing that aspect. After 5 tries, I almost gave up.

  3. So sorry about the "hoops" - I am not sure how to fix it?

  4. do you remember how old you were when this story took place? I don't recall the shoes - you have such a great memory of these things!

  5. Gosh, I don't remember how I did it, but it was easy and much better to allow folks to comment freely w/out having to type in that code. It's annoying. I bet one of your kids could fix it in a heartbeat. :o)

  6. Amen and amen!! The line that made me laugh out loud, "the whole shootin' shebang at Prairie would have made an incredible reality show!" Oh, goodness, would it ever!!

  7. I can relate to the experience of growing up in a legalism free home within a sometimes legalistic community. I think it could have been a much different community if everyone had been aware of the original reasons for some of the Prairie rules. I don't even recall hearing about the "no cowboy boots indoors" rule! Maybe it was in the past by the time I was paying attention to (and breaking) the rules. :)