« Previous  
 Next »

Shining Shoes

08/25/08 5:55PM By Mary McCallum
 MP3   Download MP3 

(HOST) Commentator Mary McCallum is a free lance writer and teacher who remembers her father with affection - and still practices a Saturday night ritual that reminds her of him.  

(MCCALLUM) After my 95 year-old father died last winter I helped my mother go through his things. We sorted through frayed, freshly washed undershirts, white cotton tube socks and the old ties he wore with his dated brown sports jacket for special occasions. In his younger years my father was a snappy dresser. He sported a mustache, suits with unique fabric patterns, and wore clip-on bowties to work. And he believed in polished shoes. He taught his five children the ritual of polishing our shoes every week.

I thought about this while sorting his things, and it struck me that hardly anyone polishes their shoes any more. In fact, the whole idea of the shinier the object the more impressive it is, has in some ways become passe. Cars are no longer laden with heavy chrome bumpers, expensive kitchen fixtures are in understated satin finishes, and the most fashionable women's shoes are more about stilettos and straps than luster.

Dad believed that the shine on a man's shoes indicated something about his character.Dad imparted that thinking to us kids, and Saturday nights found us rummaging through the wooden shoeshine box for small round cans of waxy paste that matched our leather shoes. We applied it with old rags saturated with brown, black or cordovan paste from previous uses. We spread it on our scuffed shoes, buffed with clean rags, and finished with a soft bristled brush that brought out the shine. It was a satisfying process, made easier by using a metal contraption my father attached to the wall that held each shoe in place on a form. It left our hands free to buff up a storm.

"Where is that shoeshine gear now?" I wondered. I took a break from matching pairs of tube socks and descended the steep steps to my parents' tiny cellar to look for the worn wooden box of assorted polishes, rags and buffing brush. It was tucked neatly under his work bench. The box was a project that my brother made in highschool woodshop fifty years ago, and although my father gave up polishing shoes when he hit eighty, he couldn't part with the box. I found it empty except for the expandable metal wall brace that held the shoes in place. I took it home where I know someone who will use it.

This friend polishes shoes faithfully every week, arranging shoes, cloths and waxes around him on the floor of the living room. He is from a Latin American country where men wear carefully ironed shirts and highly polished shoes to work. He says it's a matter of pride in one's appearance and respect for the job. When I gave him my father's special gadget his eyes lit up. He assured me he would use it, and we laughed about how we are a dying breed.

I haven't given up on polishing my shoes either - it's one of those comforting rituals from my past that I hold onto - while I don't care much for chrome, I still love a shiny shoe.
comments powered by Disqus
Supported By
Become an Underwriter | Find an Underwiter