PARIS -- My father always wore pointy sand-colored roughouts with his Levi's. My first boyfriend, a cowboy who was a champion goat roper, wore smooth mahogany snub-toed ropers with his starched Wranglers. My younger brother got a pair of boots before I did. Because I've always been a tomboy -- I grew up shooting rifles, fishing with bamboo poles and riding on the back of my dad's motorcycle as fast as it would go -- I wanted a pair, too.
I've always loved boots and the ruggedness they stood for.
Boots were as much a part of growing up in North Texas as blazing-hot summers and watching the Cowboys games on Sundays in the fall. Boots were Texas. They were part of its culture, history and charm. Still are.
I finally got my first pair of cowboy boots -- at Weldon's Western Wear in Denton -- in elementary school, but since then, my boot obsession has taken on a life of its own. I began seeking out boots wherever I'd go; I'd pick them up at flea markets, thrift stores and vintage boutiques when I'd travel through Texas, or any other place in the West. At one point, I had so many cowboy boots that I lined them up against a wall and tried to pass them off as decorative. The truth was, I had too many. So I gave some of them away and put my boots back in the closet. I still wonder if that was the right thing to do.
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Naturally, when I moved to France five years ago to try to merge my life with that of Xavier, my French boyfriend, my boots came with me. But I didn't wear them that much at first, and I really can't say why now, looking back. I guess I was trying to fit in, which I eventually realized I'd never do, no matter how long I lived there and how fluent in the language I became.
Then, sometime during that first year, the initial sparkle of living in Paris began to fade, and I came down with a case of homesickness that wouldn't go away.
Months away from a return visit, I thought about ways to put a little more Texas into my life. So I rolled out tortillas by hand and started making my own salsa with the fiery Thai chiles I'd find at the Asian market on the other side of town. And I started wearing my cowboy boots -- one of nearly a dozen pairs I'd packed to make the trans-Atlantic voyage with me -- every single day. I wore them to walk my dog. I wore them to the grocery store down the street. And when Xavier and I would go to dinner at our favorite local bistro, I wore them there.
And guess what happened? The more I wore my boots, the more "me" I began to feel. I might be living far from the big, sunny skies of Texas and from drive-through-window tacos, but if I could feel more at home with myself, I figured, then I could feel more at home in Paris. Like magic, slipping into a pair of cowboy boots each day took me from feeling displaced to feeling like there was no other place I needed to be.
I've always felt more powerful -- more ready to take on whatever comes my way -- when wearing boots. Thanks to Nancy Sinatra, boots have equaled girl power as long as I can remember. The quickest route to feeling stronger and better about myself has always been putting on my favorite pair.
After my divorce many years ago, getting out of bed was tough; being motivated to do much more than that was even more difficult. But I'd put on my cowboy boots -- a pair of vintage caramel calfskins that I've since had to retire -- every day. I wore them with leggings and jeans. I wore them with shorts. And when I started to feel a bit more girly, I wore them with full skirts, too. After months of grieving, my inner girl and inner tomboy had come together. I was once again in balance. Boots helped get me there.
For me, wearing boots has always been transformational. I walk taller in boots, and my whole body feels more upright and centered. My shoulders go back. I'm ready to face whatever challenges the day might bring.
Flip-flops could never do such a thing.
Plus, boots are just cool, and those who wear them -- and by that I mean those who wear them well, with a certain style, swagger and toughness -- are cool, too.
Now -- true confession -- I also have a few pairs of boots in my closet that are noncowboy -- two pairs of black motorcycles, both knee-high and regular; caramel Fryes; and some others that were handmade in Spain -- but when I wear them, it doesn't feel the same. It doesn't feel Texas.
I guess that's what I've been trying to say. Wearing cowboy boots makes me feel grounded. It's rooted in my own history of being from North Texas, being raised here and riding horses bareback, because that's just what you did back then. Wearing cowboy boots is like wearing a part of my past, while walking in the present, right into my future.
In which case, you can never have too many pairs.
Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. Twitter: @cowgirlchef