Steve Cotler

Steve Cotler

Shoe Polish and History…Repeating

A guest post by my oldest child, Emily.

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I had this memory of my father. I was very young, and he was shining shoes. I well-remembered the smell, and the mess, and how careful he was with the polish in the little tubs. Everything was kept in a shoebox, and newspapers spread on the table, and I remember my amazement as the shoes would become transformed.

Last year I brought my daughter and my favorite clogs to my father’s house. I told Rhiannon: “Watch what Pobba can do — he will make them look new again.” She was dubious, carefully watching him unload polishes and stained toothbrushes and other such stuff from his very very old shoebox. But as the scuffed leather began to gleam, she delighted. She talked about it for weeks. At her insistence we even got my father a new tackle box for his shoe shining gear for Father’s Day—big enough for him to put his very very old shoebox inside it.

Full-sized Barbie was too big. But Barbie kid doll was perfect.

This June we went on a family trip and in the hotel bathrooms were bright green complimentary shoe mitts. Rhiannon thought maybe they were little sleeping bags for her dolls and she tried to stuff her full-sized Barbie into it. Barbie didn’t fit. One eyebrow raised (yes, she can do this — sigh), she gave me a What Gives? look.

“It’s a shoe mitt,” I said. “For shining shoes.”

I will bring it to Pobba! (Note, she went into my sister’s bathroom and swiped that one, too, so we brought two!)

Over the Fourth of July we went to Pobba’s house and dutifully brought both wee green shoe mitts and my same favorite clogs, dull again for a year of wearing. My dad took out his trusty old Kinney shoebox and he started to teach Rhiannon how to shine shoes.

“Where is your tacklebox?” I asked. He came up with some cockamamie reason why the box didn’t work for the shoe polish stuff, so he was using it for tools.

I know he just didn’t want to give up the ancient shoebox. I teased: “Is this the same box from when I was a kid? I remember watching you shine shoes when I was Rhiannon’s age.”

My father stopped shining my shoes. He looked up at me. Rhiannon looked up at him. Why’d you stop, Pobba?

“That was my father who shined shoes with you,” my father said.

Your father? Rhiannon asked. He shined shoes, too? (Note: I think this blew her mind a little to realize that Pobba wasn’t the only person in the whole world who shined shoes.)

And so as my father told my daughter about my grandfather and his shoe store while he shined shoes with a five-year-old looking on, I weightily processed that my memory of my father was really of my grandfather, and the picture of my daughter with my father was History Repeating…

And that I better learn how to shine shoes, because some day, if I am lucky, I will have a grandkid at my elbow.

One Comment

  1. Joe Bolin says:

    Steve,

    I remember my father (no, really, my father…not my grandpa) polishing shoes. He was a Marine and I guess it is an important skill for Marines to have (no, I know it’s an important skill for Marines to have…my dad told me so). Anyway, my dad used Lincoln brand shoe polish and edge guard, plus all the brushes (including a toothbrush) that your grandpa used. Only thing is, my dad always used his lighter to soften the shoe polish. Shoe polish has petroleum ingredients, so it burns (like that solid fuel restaurants use under a fondue pot). My dad would touch his lighter flame to the wax in the can and it would burn with a blue flame. He let it burn for maybe 30 seconds and then put the lid back on to snuff out the flame. He’d use the softened wax to polish his shoes. Funny the things we remember about our parents; thanks for giving me a reason to stop and savor this memory of my long-gone dad!

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