I remember exactly how old I was when I finally started washing my feet. I was 12. Don’t get me wrong, my feet got washed all those years, but like most kids my age, my parents kept me clean until I was old enough to bathe on my own, and then I took over from there. But at the age of 12, I suddenly became an absolute hygiene nut, thanks to a new friend in the neighborhood.
In 1975 most kids left the house early in the morning. They’d return for lunch, unless some other mom up the street fed them, back for supper, then head right back out until after dark. Kids knew more about the neighborhood than anyone else on the block because of our proximity on our bikes.
In the summer of my 12th year, a new family moved across the street. While riding past their house on my bike as they moved in, I noticed a statuesque, and smiling person in the front yard, looking right back at me. It was a girl. I saw girls before this, but for reasons I didn’t understand then, I was especially intrigued by this girl. Maybe it was the afternoon sun, the moon, or another force in the universe, but I knew I had to meet her. And, of course, I did. She lived across the street.
After they settled in from the move, I rolled up the driveway on my bike to say hello. Her dad was friendly, probably because I was up to my elbows in tools and grease, and her mom looked at me like a pan that needed a good scrub and polish. But most importantly, the girl was friendly and liked to be outdoors.
As the weeks passed that summer, we visited and talked. Lawns got mowed, cars washed, and front porches were swept off. People lived outdoors more back then, and since I lived on my bike, it was easy to stop by and say hello.
During one of those visits, I sat on the front porch rail while the new girl put on her socks and shoes. And like the front porch that got swept every day, I was struck by how absolutely clean she was. Shiny almost. Looking down at my knees, ankles, and feet, I was amazed at the contrast. My legs looked like a dirty car when it sprinkles, but doesn’t rain hard enough to wash it all off. Worse than dirty. I couldn’t wait to wash my feet when I got home.
That night when showering before bed, I saw my feet in a new light—the light of the eons. Self-consciousness and vanity bloomed. I saw myself in the eyes of the pristinely clean girl across the street. And I grew up a little bit.
I had a crush on that girl forever. She would come over and play basketball, and I’d delight in wrestling for the ball in the grass when it went out of bounds. I’d show her some silly thing on my skateboard, and she’d beat it with her own stunts. But as high school went on, we both grew up, our interests moved apart, and so did our time together as adolescents.
I don’t know what ever became of that young woman, or where she ended up in life. And I can’t say that I’ve ever lived my life as perfectly neat and tidy as she did. But the level of self-awareness that I experienced in that summer of life has never been forgotten. Even after 30 years of marriage, I still laugh at how grubby I find myself sometimes after a day outdoors. So I do what my formative years taught me. I wash my feet, and look forward to the moment my wife looks at me with that pretty front porch smile.