Today I am wearing really great boots.

These boots are great for a bunch of reasons, but, unfortunately, comfort is not one of them. The toes are a little too pointy for me, and I haven't been able to force myself to wear them enough to make them completely comfortable, even though I've had them for a couple of years now. They're getting better all the time, though - I've worn them all day at work today, and I'm not in tears yet.

These are Nocona cowboy boots, all leather, brown but a very yellowish brown, and a bit darker on top. Not too much decoration, just some white stitching. Subtle. I have four pairs of cowboy boots, and these are the shortest ones I've got and probably the best quality as well. There's another pair I really love, also Nocona: a gray snakeskin pair that is nearly falling apart, broken in so well they feel like socks. I got those on the same day I got the yellow brown ones. In fact, I think yellow brown boots probably belonged to the same guy who owned the snakeskin ones.

I buy all my cowboy boots used, and I've never paid more than $15. The only time I bought a pair of cowboy boots new was when I was in junior high, and I outgrew them eventually, but I hung on to them forever. I ended up giving them to a friend in college and she took them to China, where she was teaching high school for a year. They were lost when her apartment caught on fire; she put her mosquito coil too close to her straw sleeping mat. She was fine, but the boots were not.

The boots I'm wearing today, and my cool soft gray snakeskin pair, I bought together in a thrift shop in Blanco, Texas. I was with a friend, and we were on a pilgrimage to see the weeping Virgin icon at an Eastern Orthodox monastery there. When we got to Blanco we stopped in a coffee shop for a little pick-me-up, and there we read a brochure saying that to see the weeping Virgin we had to be dressed appropriately - in other words, we needed skirts.

We were both wearing jeans, so we went to the thrift store, which was just right around the corner, to shop. My friend found a great skirt and was pleased. I couldn't find a skirt that worked, but I found the two pairs of boots, and when I bought them the woman behind the counter told me not to worry about the skirt. The monks and nuns kept a box of skirts and other appropriate clothing on hand for pilgrims who showed up underdressed.

So I took my chances and we started the short drive out of town to the monastery, with me driving and my friend changing clothes in the passenger seat. We arrived, took a short tour, and then entered the chapel and were blessed with the tears of the Virgin. There was no trouble; I didn't even have to put on a skirt out of the box - even though I saw it there, full of skirts.

No, we didn't see the virgin weep, but we were told she'd wept the day before. She had wept quite copiously, it seems, because the cotton ball removed from the bottom of the icon's case was so soaked with tears of myrrh that when the monk made the cross on my forehead the myrrh ran down my face and on to my glasses. It's really hard to get myrrh off your glasses.

We needed a beer after that, so we drove back into Blanco proper to a brewery that had tours, or so we thought. Actually, they didn't really give tours, but the folks there were happy to see us even though we were strangers. They showed us around the one-room brewery while feeding us as much beer as we could drink. They told us all about the beer-making process, very little of which I can recall because the beer was so good. I remember, though, that they only capped three beer bottles at a time, which must take forever if you're trying to bottle a lot of beer.

Soon I realized I had reached my drinking-and-driving limit and said we should probably go. We drove slowly and carefully for about a block to place called the Blanco Bowling Café, an old diner with a bowling alley in the back room. We drank black coffee and ate the most wonderful chocolate meringue pie you can imagine. The meringue must have been three inches tall, I kid you not. It was such good pie my accent got thicker, and I even got sober enough to drive us home.

There have been hard times at the monastery since then, I'm afraid, and it seems like very few people believe in the Virgin and her tears of myrrh at all. Of course, I never really believed. It doesn't matter, I guess, because I was blessed anyway, and I can buy the beer from Blanco in my local grocery store now, and someday soon I'll have these yellow brown boots broken in enough that I can wear them all day long.

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This page added July 19.