Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The Shoeshine

I am a person who appreciates great, well made shoes. For many years I bought the cheapest shoes I possibly could and then just threw them out when I wore holes through the toes, the soles started flapping, or they just started looking plain embarrassing. Then I discovered the difference in owning great shoes. Back in my 'ready cash available' days, I invested in a number of pairs of high end shoes and boots. The difference between them and my old cheapies is incredible. My higher end shoes fit better, are more comfortable, wear better, breathe better and frankly, look better than my old shoes ever dreamed of being. I haven't bought much in the way of shoes in a long time, obviously, but fortunately, all the ones I bought in better times are still going strong.

This last weekend when I was away, I brought my favorite pair of black boots with me. These are my "old stand-bys." I probably wear them more than any other boot in my closet. They are tall black leather dress boots, laced up the front with a fairly impressive heel and a good set of tread on the sole. I shopped for them forever! It is ridiculous how hard it can be to find an attractive women's boot that actually has tread! In Michigan winters with all the snow and ice we get, having tread is fairly important, to say the least. Anyway, after getting home Monday I noticed a couple of scuffs on the toes of the boots, so I decided last night to polish them.

It seems to me that polishing shoes has gone the way of canning vegetables and changing your own oil. So many shoes are made of 100% Man Made materials now that when they get beat up we try coloring them in with a Sharpie for awhile then just throw them out. It just so happens though, that I happen to have my father's old shoe shine kit.

My mother kept it after my father died, probably because she is a practical kind of lady and knew it might come in handy. However, at the garage sale I had with my friends last summer, my mother brought it to me to sell, probably because that practical lady realized that she never used the dang thing! I knew as soon as I saw it I couldn't sell it. Isn't funny how things from our childhood hit us like that? So many things we can just let go and then along comes something that brings back a ton of memories. This wooden box always resided in the hall linen closet. Mom used to pay us kids a little cash to do extra tasks around the house and me, I always liked cleaning out the linen closet - pulling out, sorting and restoring all the towels, sheets, board games, and of course, dad's shoeshine box. It's been sitting in my own linen closet ever since, down on the bottom shelf well below all the towels and sheets. So, last night I pulled it out...

I don't think I have opened it since my mother gave it to me. I wasn't even completely sure there would be any usable black shoe polish in there, but there was - a ancient Kiwi can with just enough in it for a few pairs of shoes. It is funny to see all the things in this box. There is a plastic bag full of packages of white shoelaces. One of them has big blue cartoon whales on them. Who could those have possibly been for? A very young me? In the box were old shammy cloths, old polishing rags, Dad's bristle brushes. I saw a container of white boot polish. From the age of the container, I would say it was probably from back when my dad was wearing red flare legged pants and his ankle high white kidskin boots. Yes, this polish is close to 40 years old - no wonder it looked cracked and dried! At the bottom of the box was an old cologne bottle for High Karate, dried remnants of it still coloring the sides. He paid a $1.75 for it at a store I've never heard of. I couldn't help wondering why it was in here. Did he sprinkle a few drops in his shoes? Or was this just his place for all his "young man" things, shoe polish and cologne, to be used on a date or before church? There is no one to ask. My mother won't know and my grandparents are long gone. I'd love to dig into the box further, but every time I lifted something out tiny flakes of dried shoe polish drifted gently down to my carpeting. It will have to be a task for another day over newspaper.

Fortunately Dad did teach me to polish shoes. I can't say that when I was done I could see my face in them, but I'm not sure I would have wanted too! I loved the way they cleaned up though - the scuffs just disappeared and the black leather gleamed. It felt good to get that done, and I think he would have been proud.

Let me tell you something right now, no matter how frugal I might get, shoe shopping is not ever going to be taken completely off the list. I may not be able to splurge right now, but my time will come!

EDIT: If anyone would like to learn how to polish their own shoes, there is a nice clear article "How to Shine Shoes" on eHow.


Photo by: SirWiseOwl

12 comments:

K-money said...

I paid over $100 for a good pair of Danskos five years ago and they are the only shoes still in my closet from that long ago. I keep them polished and they still look almost new. I learned to polish shoes in the Army, it does seem to be a lost skill outside of the military. Good for you for posting about this. What nice memories of your dad, too

Arual said...

This story reminded me of the shoe kit when I was a kid. Three brothers in cadets meant watching them polish every week. I used to love the smell of polish and watching them work. Thanks for aiding in bringing back that memory :)

Kenn12 said...

If you drop a little cooking oil into the dried cakes of shoe polish and work it in, you might be able to use them again. Just a little bit of savings.

getting stuff done said...

I am so up there with the aim of fewer better quality things that last longer. having said that I just sold my very high end shoes on ebay. someone will be loving them though. am aiming for a capsule wardrobe of shoes made up of classics; White converse, Frye boots, high black courts shoes, flat black leather boots, birkenstock sandals, flip flops, ballet flats.... I know I have more in my shoe drawer though. I also have high pointy point black boots and some red party sandals with leather roses on the tie up straps. not getting rid of those yet, even though i hardly ever wear them!

Kenn12 said...

You can add a little bit of cooking oil to the dried up bits of shoe shine. Then rub it in and it will probably still work well. Maybe that will help you save a little something.

Dawn said...

K-money - I have a friend who swears by her Danskos. Like you she has had them for years and just loves them. Though, I think she could use some of your polishing lessons! My dad was in the National Guard, I wonder if that's where he learned it or if it was a skill he had before then?

Arual - You are so welcome! Glad I brought such happy memories.

Kenn12 - Really? Wow, what a great tip! I doubt I will need the white polish, but that is good to know for some of the other colors.

Getting Stuff Done - I have some pretty crazy shoes that I love and wear whenever I can, and some standards that I hope will last me a long time. Getting your wardrobe down to classics is a great idea.

Louise said...

yes shoes are one thing where it is worth paying for quality. I remember having to polish our school shoes every night ready for the next day. lovely post, reminded me of my grandad.

Dawn said...

Glad you enjoyed the post Louise! I have never polished mine every night, only now and again when I think they need it. If I did them every night though, I bet they would look fabulous!

Kristy @ Master Your Card said...

Ah, shoes. I am so cheap when it comes to shoes. I've never particularly taken an active interest in the maintenance and care of shoes - always thought of them as collateral damage. But, I recently spent a little extra on a pair that are super comfortable and of excellent quality. The only downside is that they're a little big because I didn't realize this brand's sizes ran slightly bigger anyway. The place I bought them from only had this pair in this size, so I just dealt with it as the shoes are perfect otherwise. However, I have absolutely no idea how to shine shoes! LOL. I think that would be a great lesson to learn because I totally go the sharpie route when I need to buff up some shoes. Excellent idea! Thanks for the link on the 'how-to!'

Dawn said...

Kristy - I am so glad you commented, I needed someone to back me up on the Sharpie comment. C'mon, who hasn't done that at least once in their life?

Polishing doesn't take long and it is impressive how good they look afterward. With those new shoes you have, give it a try if they start looking scuffed - you might be impressed.

Lise said...

Ah, one could write an entire article on lost frugal arts, such as shining shoes or darning socks. In fact, I may just do that.

Dawn said...

Lise - you should!! Knitting, growing your own food, making children's toys - there's tons of them!