“Where are we going?” Henry asked, as Chris drove into the Blain’s Farm & Fleet parking lot. It’s a store we seldom visit.
“We’re going to shop for boots at Blain’s Farm & Fleet,” I said as I pointed to the sign.
“That’s not Blain’s. The sign says Blair’s,” Henry argued.
“It’s not Blair’s. It’s Blain’s,” I explained, “but I can understand why you think so with the cursive writing.” I opened the van doors and herded the kids outside.
“Well, in third grade we were only taught how to write cursive letters, not how to read them,” Henry grumbled as he walked into the store.
As we perused the shelves for the right sizes, Isaac ran to the women’s boot section and selected a pair of navy blue boots from the shelf. He didn’t look at the size. The boots he chose were tall waterproof ones that a farmer might wear while doing pig chores. I grew up on a farm. These are the type of boots someone might wear to feed pigs or shovel manure in the cattle barn. If Isaac wore them while sledding or walking through deep snow, his feet would surely freeze.
While he tried them on, we had a few minutes to find boots for Noah.
When Noah declared he had found a pair of black winter boots that fit, we searched briefly for Isaac and found him nearby. Isaac had been strutting up and down the aisles of the store with his pant legs tucked into the tall boots. He was on cloud nine. If there had been a runway in Blain’s Farm & Fleet, Isaac would have been the first model to volunteer for the fashion show. He was in love.
“Put those boots away and come over here,” Chris said with a laugh. “We need to find snow boots for you, too.”
Eventually Chris found a pair of winter boots for Isaac that’s appropriate for sub-zero temperatures. They fit, and Isaac said he liked them. Finding boots the boys can fasten themselves is no easy task. As far as I was concerned, it was a miracle.
“Put your boots in the cart, boys, and let’s go home,” Chris said.
Isaac stood in the aisle wearing the navy waterproof boots and a mile-wide grin.
“Put them away,” Chris said. “We are not taking them home.”
Isaac sat down, pulled off the boots, and put them in the shopping cart.
“Do you want to buy these farm boots?” Chris asked.
“Yes,” Isaac replied with a laugh.
It’s difficult to buy gifts for Isaac because usually he doesn’t seem to care about material possessions. He prefers experiences: a hotel stay, a ride in an elevator, or a trip to a restaurant. Once in a while he finds something he likes, but typically it’s a basketball or an oversized inflatable ball at a retail store.
“If he wants them, he can pay for them,” I said to Chris. “Let him buy them. He has enough money.”
“The boots are $29.99. He probably won’t ever wear them again,” Chris said. “We don’t live on a farm. And what if he has the wrong size?”
We discovered Isaac had the right size, and he had enough money. What the boots didn’t have was a price tag. We realized it when we got to the checkout lanes.
“I need a price check for navy blue Servus boots,” the cashier said over the loud speaker. “They look like children’s boots.”
“No, they are women’s boots,” Chris and I said at the same time. I started to laugh and asked about the return policy. We paid, and our family left the store with our new boots and the receipt.
When we got home I put all of the boots in the basement and crossed my fingers we wouldn’t need any snow boots for several more weeks. Before Isaac went to bed, he carried the navy blue boots upstairs and set them near the back door.
That evening I looked at the Servus website because I was curious about their business. Their slogan is “Multi-purpose boots & overshoes for every job.” The first customer review I read was from a satisfied customer in Pennsylvania who said, “I love that they’re waterproof. Makes for nice dry feet when you’re washing cattle.”
Boots for every job, huh? Some of Isaac’s jobs include carrying the laundry upstairs, making coffee, loading and starting the dishwasher, and taking the garbage to the curb. Surely he did not need the navy boots for those jobs. We live in town and have no pets.
I wondered if Isaac would wear the boots to school Tuesday. He did not. I wondered if he would ever wear them again. If not, I had the receipt for an easy return.
When I took him to Hy-Vee Tuesday afternoon (Tuesday is when I take Isaac to the store, even if we don’t need anything), he wore the boots.
He wore them in the parking lot.
Saturday morning when Chris and Isaac were preparing to leave for the weekly grocery shopping at Hy-Vee, Isaac put on the boots again.
“You can’t wear those boots to Hy-Vee!” Chris said. He was mortified.
“Why? He wore them Tuesday. The boots are clean. He hasn’t been out in random hog lots. I let him wear them. He loved it.”
“Just what we need . . . another reason for Isaac to stand out,” Chris said. I had to admit it was true. The boots are unusual for a 13-year-old boy who lives in town, but it didn’t ruffle my feathers. As long as he was happy, I didn’t care. I’ve never had much fashion sense. Isaac got his sense of style from me.
At Henry’s birthday party a week later, my mom asked what Isaac might like for Christmas. I told her I hadn’t a clue and mentioned how difficult it is to find gifts for him that he likes. Then I told the story about Isaac’s affinity for his new navy blue boots. I showed the boots to our relatives. My mom laughed when I told her he wore the chore boots to the grocery store and the library.
As I talked about the boots with family members, I learned that Isaac’s cousins have similar boots they wear when they feed chickens and help with the sheep. His cousins are girls. He was at their house one day in late October with his grandparents. “Yep, the girls have similar chore boots. They put their boots right by the back door,” my brother-in-law said.
Like so many parts of autism, the boot purchase was a puzzle. It all made sense now. I understood why Isaac wanted his very own women’s-styled farm boots. He had seen his cousins wearing them. Maybe he liked how they looked? Maybe he admired the boots from afar? Maybe he wanted to be like his cousins? Maybe he wanted to help with the chores but didn’t have the right footwear? Maybe he wanted to belong? Isaac couldn’t tell us the whole story. It gave me pause that day to think about what other stories he might tell us if he were able to communicate a little better.
Isaac has worn the boots to school. He has worn them outside while he pushed a shop broom and “shoveled” our driveway after a light dusting of snow. He keeps them near the back door where we have hung up our winter coats.
Isaac is a teenager who is growing fast. I don’t know how long he will be able to wear the navy blue Servus boots. I can’t imagine they will get more than one year’s use before they are too small. When he outgrows them we’ll climb into the van, drive to Blain’s Farm & Fleet, and look for new boots. I bet we’ll find what we’re looking for in the women’s section.