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Barefoot Boys - A Poem

Updated on February 22, 2011
Me, about when I started panwork. 75 W Truman Ave in SLC. At that time Ketchum's Builder's supply was situated across the street. They built wood-framed houses there, then hauled them off.
Me, about when I started panwork. 75 W Truman Ave in SLC. At that time Ketchum's Builder's supply was situated across the street. They built wood-framed houses there, then hauled them off.

A Poem with a Bit of History

Don’t talk to me of barefoot boys
Who haven’t fed the hunger of their dreams;
The tale is too sad, the idea unthinkable.
Hollow they’d be—birds without wings!
What kid, when, given grit from his dad,
A few open doors and two determined feet,
Wouldn’t risk some scars and mud in the face
To act like a man doing some great deed?

    In home-made comic books, I was the hero.
    I climbed on hooks, never scored zero.
    I conquered the skies, and the depths of the seas!
    Foiled the bad guys, flew a trapeze.
    Impressed the good guys, visited caves,
    Was the best of spies, and rode the waves.
    I fought in wars alongside the famous,
    Burned down doors, subdued the tameless.
    Sports fans cheered me, generals called.
    Aliens blessed me, under buildings I crawled.
    Solved great mysteries,  flew into space!
    With relative ease I won each race.

It doesn’t seem possible that each young man,
Venturing out the door of his childhood,
Can face the world without having been, in it,
A hero of liberty, justice and good.
Oh, the gift granted barefoot boys:
To make a cockpit from an earthen hole,
Wings from planks and bottle-bottom gauges,
And a stick in the middle for the main control.

    In two dimensions, and oft’ in three,
    I made inventions, I lived in a tree.
    Dimension four, deep in my mind,
    I helped the poor, their kin to find.
    A cafe I owned, and also a car,
    My talents I loaned for countries afar.
    Television I hosted, invented flying craft,
    Pebbles I floated on a homemade raft.
    Delved into novels, fell under their magic!
    Read Terhune fables, and Price was fantastic:
    Polynesia I traveled—saw ocean depths,
    Or lived the perils of the bravest pets.

Fantasies expanded to near-reality,
As I traveled with cousins and older brothers:
So generous were they, their experience broad,
They showed me things I thought were wonders.
Though slow I was and clumsy with sports,
They wagged their heads, but they let me play.
They took me swimming, tho’ I never learned how,
Their “neat” inventions always made my day.

    The drive-in was free—the fence had a hole:
    The movies we’d see on our blanket laid low
    “Jambalaya” played, and Todd-O commercials,
    But, I’m afraid, can’t remember the visuals.
    But well I remember—the feeling is strong:
    I was with my brothers; they could do no wrong.
    At home they made such magical things.
    Great plans were laid, and memory brings
    Images of whistles made from bark,
    Launching missiles—we played past dark.
    Homemade battleship, playing war;
    Bonding our friendship with baseball and more.
    Miniature cranes lifted bundles.
    We made some flames with lenses on handles.
    Sling shots and flippers, go-carts they made!
    We watched the Big Dipper, at night we prayed.

Anything that wasn’t necessity or duty
Enchanted my heart and turned my head.
Grasshoppers to “cheeseweed” didn’t pass me by,
Before I studied them or upon them tread.
Eating, sleeping, chores or school—
Interruptions, all; I pushed my limits
For one more moment to interact
With wondrous masses or little tidbits.

    Dad’s paper boat: after water I brought,
    I watched it float! what a wondrous thought!
    Tinker Toys, beanbag grenades,
    All for boys, and watching parades.
    With a spool and elastic wound in braid,
    Soap and a matchstick, a steamroller is made.
    Buried treasure at a certain site;
    In paces we measured, so to recover at night.
    Tunneled in snow and in the weeds too,
    Had the best bike I know, in a small plane I flew.
    Built huts in trees, played under the logs.
    Watched Hickock movies, fed some hogs.
    Offered my Erector Set as a reward.
    Brother forgave debt, I thanked the Lord.
    Green apples I had—right there in the tree.
    They didn’t taste bad; we had a salt-shaker, you see.
    Visited ghost towns. Found some flares.
    Made our rounds to war surplus wares.
    An organ you pump—right there in the house!
    My fingers did thump; much later, played Faust.
    Fairmont park—swimming Boys Plunge;
    Happy was my heart, awaiting Open Plunge.
    A calf sucked my fingers. Watched Twins milk cows.
    Cleaned out clinkers. Made little-boy vows.
    Sledding on a hill. Made home movies.
   Sand Dunes were a thrill. Made games of duties.
    Log cabin walls smelled of tasty smoke.
    Went to Donut Falls, Salt Lake made me float.
    Animated a film. Same socks all week.
    Made an open kiln. Ignored shoe nails in feet.

I didn’t know when innocence passed;
I wasn’t there when maturity came.
It happened while I wasn’t looking:
Panwork* hit, then I wasn’t the same.
But, at the tender age of twelve,
Barefoot boys welcomed hard-toed shoes.
They felt like men, wielding hammers and bars;
Crayons turned into nails, fantasies to blues.
Clouds off the chalkboard became concrete dust,
Real buildings replaced my wooden Tinker Toys!
I became a man—my foundation is strong,
But my heart will remember barefoot boys.

* I worked for my Uncle using metal forms for concrete joists. We called the forms "pans." Thus, we did what we called "panwork."

My brother, Dee, standing (oldest). My other brother, John Elmo (we called him John El). I'm on the right, the youngest. These are the brothers I refer to in the poem.
My brother, Dee, standing (oldest). My other brother, John Elmo (we called him John El). I'm on the right, the youngest. These are the brothers I refer to in the poem.


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    • noant profile image

      Noa Uy Antiola 

      7 years ago from Tagbilaran City, Bohol, Central Visayas, Philippines

      So inspiring. It made me cry :'(

    • Pearldiver profile image

      Rob Welsh 

      7 years ago from Tomorrow - In Words & NZ Time.

      Excellent piece.. I also mirrored this lifestyle and at 12 our lives did change didn't they? I took many years to 'slim down' my feet into the right size of shoes. So far away 14000 odd miles.. others did the same... But You Would Never have breached our fort without first disappearing under the floating grass swamp that surrounded it! lol.

      Thank you for a fine reminder of all those things that most kids, will sadly never experience... Take Care


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