More on the Joy of Shiny Shoes

Friend and regular blog reader Barbara read my post about getting my black leather shoes shined in the airport in Minneapolis, and she sent along this remembrance of her own family. I post it here with her permission:

My father had a hand-made shoe shine box for as long as I remember.  It was heavy, being made of wood and contained several well-worn and lovingly maintained clothes based on shoe polish color.  In the early days I am sure there was a cloth for the white shoes my sister and I wore on Sundays and a special applicator for the brown soles.  Then there was the black cloth, the brown cloth, the blue cloth and the cloth reserved for shoe wax of no color.  My sister and I kept the box until we cleared out the family home…and long after both of us had stopped polishing shoes on a regular basis.”

I loved this, and it certainly rang true with my late husband Jerry’s shoe shine box with its well-seasoned polishing cloths, and with the tools used by the shoeshine guy in the airport. Like Barbara, I kept Jerry’s shoe shine box long after he died — even moving it here to Seattle with me even though I was rarely buying good leather shoes any more. Then, of course, I got that pair of black loafer-like shoes [no slot for the penny] which require regular polishing.

I like Barbara’s comment for two reasons. One is that I suspect a shoe shine box was common in households from a certain era, when people wore good shoes to work and to religious services and took pride in keeping them polished. Jerry was in the U.S. Army for two years right after graduate school — it was the height of the VietNam war, and he was in Washington D.C. putting his PhD in organic chemistry to use in the Chemical Corps. That’s where he and I met. At first, Jerry wore black leather boots that you had to polish, and his were always spit-shined. Then, at a point, the Army began to issue boots that came with shiny leather that you didn’t have to polish. Jerry found them inferior because they were shiny without putting the work in. He felt his hand-shined and buffed boots looked much better.

The other part about Barbara’s comment that I love is the reflection on what we keep of those we love, and why. She kept her dad’s shoe shine box, and I kept Jerry’s. The box represented more than the bottles of polish, the brushes, and the well-seasoned cloths. They told us something about the people who had put them together and used them with such pride and careful attention.

So did your family have a shoe shine box, or something like that which you chose to keep because of what it said, more than what kind of utility it served?

10 thoughts on “More on the Joy of Shiny Shoes

  1. My mother still has the wooden shoe shine box that I grew up with. It has the well used and oiled cloths in black and brown, possibly even white, as I recall shining my saddle shoes. It hasn’t been utilized in many years but also still sits in the closet in its spot.

  2. for Bryna: Probably Grandpa Max’s yes? And most likely that’s where Jerry got the model for his. 🙂

  3. My mother says it was actually my father’s show shine box … I did always wonder if it was Grandpa Max’s because I’m sure that he had one, I know his shoes were always “spit shined” and looking good!

  4. Likewise for Jeannie and me. My dad would tell us to round up our shoes so he could shine the whole family’s at once.

  5. for Betsy: We all had shoes that needed polishing, didn’t we? Now I have just the one pair, and they are casual shoes, not dress shoes. Sounds as if your dad got the same satisfaction from shining shoes that Jerry did. Nice memory.

  6. My mother can’t actually say why after all these years she still has my father’s shoe shine box. I think originally it was because we used it. The shoe shine box got put in a closet years ago and then sort of got “buried” there in the back corner of the closet and that’s where it still resides.

  7. for Bryna: When I cleared out San Gabriel Drive, I found lots of things like that — including a set of hot pink and lime green napkins and placemats we’d gotten as a wedding gift. Thirty five years later, they were still in the bottom of a drawer in my linen closet. 🙂

  8. My dear late husband, whose service in World War II was followed by a career in banking, had one of those wooden shoe-shine boxes with the carry handle on top. He used it regularly. A banker must always have shined shoes to go with the suit, white shirt, tie and gold cuff links. The casual atmosphere in a bank today tells us that a lot more has been lost than the dress code.

  9. for Louise: Well, you’re certainly right — a visit to any bank branch today tells the story. Al would be horrified, I imagine.

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