Barefoot summers

Driving home yesterday, we saw a woman crossing the street, barefoot and limping.  Was she hurt?  More likely, we suspected, she was reacting to the asphalt under her feet.  With the outdoor temperature hitting 100°, the street probably felt like a hot griddle.

“When I was a kid, that blacktop wouldn’t have bothered me at all,” I bragged to my husband.  Maybe in May, but not by July 4th. 

None of us kids wore shoes in summer.  We went barefoot from the day school let out, and the acclimation process every year was almost a ritual.  At first our soles were so tender that walking on gravel was like a thousand knifepoints.  Running to the Payless grocery store for milk required strategy; we walked on grass as far as we could, and once grass was no longer available, concrete was by far preferable to asphalt.  When we had to cross the street, we hobbled and hopped across the bubbling tar. 

(Literally, on the tar thing.  Either they make streets differently today, or the sun doesn’t beat down as hotly, because I never see tar bubbling anymore.  But, as I recall, one of our favorite pastimes on a hot summer day was puncturing tar bubbles.)  

By midsummer our feet had toughened to shoe leather.  We would race down our alley with nary a twinge.  The glorious day we could finally walk across hot pavement without wincing truly marked our independence from school and grownups and rules.

Then came the end of August and a shopping trip for back-to-school shoes.

About Katherine Wikoff

I am a college professor at Milwaukee School of Engineering, where I teach literature, film studies, political science, and communication. I also volunteer with a Milwaukee homeless sanctuary, Repairers of the Breach, as chair of the Communications and Fund Development Committee.
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4 Responses to Barefoot summers

  1. Oh, my gosh! We used to pop those tar bubbles with our toes as well!! Ha, what the kids miss these days!! 🙂


  2. Heatfooter says:

    I don’t get tar bubbles, but I do get blacktop asphalt sufficiently hot during afternoon peak heat hours, that standing for more than two seconds burns so sharply it is necessary to stand on the heels only (but they still burn) or lift feet in the air one at a time to cool the feet (but even that doesn’t always work). Every summer, around the air temperature of 100 degrees range, I end up with heat blisters some part of my foot once or twice, before that part no longer blisters. Then again, I do try to keep the blacktop asphalt as much as possible, also so that when I no longer blisters I have lots of extra heat tolerance.


  3. HeatFooter says:

    One other trick I have learned is to deliberately make calluses, not only from going barefoot! I discovered that if I used a cheese grater tool *up* in the direction towards the toes, instead of down towards the heels, that it roughens the foot quite nicely. I’ll explain…

    Periodically, I’ll grate up the foot, then diagonally up/left, the diagonally up/right. Careful with the toe pads not to cut them, but the rest of the feet firm enough to etch visible lines on the feet. I also try to keep the angled lines as close to the 45 degrees in both directions. Properly done, the angled lines stand out, even moreso when the sole is even slightly dirty. I have much more visible calluses on the outside of the big toes, two very visible calluses on the balls of the feet, and very visible calluses on the outside edge of the heels–but that’s also because I give those more callused areas an extra pass whenever I do the callus making by grating.

    I won’t grate if the temperatures are in the low 90’s to 100’s degrees F, because I need the existing heat tolerance for all afternoon. Otherwise, I’ll grate and then go barefoot immediately first on the rough surfaces before peak heat to get the new calluses used to rougher once again. Then I’ll go barefoot on hot surfaces as close as possible to peak heat to get those new calluses once again used to hotter heat. It does feel a bit sharper on the rough surfaces, and it does burn a bit more on the hot surfaces, because a small amount of existing callus gets removed when etching the new calluses. But, within a a day or two the calluses are even more rough and heat resistant than before the grating.

    NOT for those who want smooth and supple leathery soles! It will still leave rough enough white callus spots even when the initial roughness has smoothed out enough to make the grater lines no longer visible. Running the feet along something like microfiber still feels like finer grit sandpaper catching along the microfiber.


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