Sundays, weddings and funerals. Two things were cleaned and polished for those special days: the car and our shoes. Weather permitting, someone parked the car close to the front yard fence. With an old rag and a couple buckets of hot soapy water, Dad or the kids washed it, top to bottom. Mom brought out the chamois and a fresh pail of water, and we polished that car to a spot-free sparkle.
The folks took pride in their family’s appearance, but I am pretty sure another important factor was their desire to take care of what we had. Things were harder to come by then, and it was important to make them last. Shoes also stood high on the priority list.
The shoe kit was kept in a small cabinet in the kitchen. The box contained various bottles and metal canisters of polishes in liquid, wax or crème boasting the brands “Kiwi” and “Esquire.” There were two soft, polish-infused rags that smelled wonderful, maybe of carnauba or lanolin.
The boys occasionally applied a leather conditioner to their work boots to keep them water-proof. After all, if you had a good pair of boots, you wanted them to last a while. Sometimes, Dad took boots to a shoe shop in Huron. The cobbler could replace a worn-down sole or put in new hooked eyelets for just a few dollars.
Mom happily shined Dad’s dress shoes, but it was us kids’ job to take care of our own. The bottles of liquid polish had a sponge applicator on the top. It was fun to watch the black or white polish soak into the shoe surface.
Delmer remembers when a bottle of shoe polish nearly got him into trouble. It was Saturday, and we were all scurrying about, getting ready for a wedding. Deloris, Lowell and their little girl Susan had spent the night. Susan toddled around in a frilly white dress, grinning happily as we told her how cute she was. It was soon time to leave for the church when Delmer walked into the kitchen in a perfectly pressed white shirt and gray pants. He stepped into his dress shoes and noticed scuff marks on the toes. Quickly, he grabbed the shoe kit, pulled out the bottle of black liquid polish and sponged it over the shoes. He put the kit away and waited.
In the next few minutes of hustle and bustle, no one knew what happened, but somehow splotches of black shoe polish appeared on the front of Susan’s beautiful white dress! Deloris scrambled to scrub the stains out of the dress. Miraculously, the black marks came out, leaving no evidence of the near calamity that had occurred. There were a few tense moments when the folks likely wanted to tan Delmer’s hide, but no one figured out how the polish got on the dress. My brother was innocent (this time).
Times are different now. I do not own one container of any kind of shoe polish. I replace my go-to athletic shoes when the soles get worn. Shoes I no longer wear are hauled to a donation center. Not once do I consider shining them or keeping them nice.
As I write this, my thoughts amble to an old photo of our parents. They are standing proudly in front of their sparkly-clean Ford Galaxy on a bright Sunday morning. I can still picture the stylish hats on their heads and smiles on their faces. And I remember their shoes. Likely, those shoes had traveled a few miles and plodded through some hard times, but like the car, they still shined like brand-new.
This marks the final story in my PUTTING ON THE BIG BOOTS column. I am in the process of publishing those 60 stories in a book much like Once Upon a Midwest Sunset. All my books are available at Amazon. Contact me at email@example.com. Watch for my new column, BACK TO FORWARD, next week!
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