On Saturday afternoons, our 13-year old neighbor Henry loads up his vintage shoeshine kit, straightens his dapper bow tie and heads downtown.
He sets up shop outside on mild summer days, inside of late, and spends a couple of amiable hours in earnest labor, bringing worn out shoes to life.
He chats easily as he buffs, his slim hands moving briskly across tired leather, with a soft rag older than he.
Times stands still for a little while as Henry works, and people passing by do too. They gather around him as though they’re watching a play, and Henry pleasantly acknowledges them with a quick nod and a grin when he pauses for a moment to check a worn spot, or to switch his polishing rag for a brush.
Henry is a shoeshine boy and there aren’t many like him in this fast-paced, one-click-shopping, throw-it-away, order-on-line world.
He learned from his grandfather, Tom Snodgrass. They practiced in the basement of the Snodgrass home.
Tom taught Henry key skills like patience and polish, appreciation for fine leather and the discipline to restore it. Eventually, Tom gave Henry the shoeshine kit he’d used his whole life.
“I used to have to shine my shoes every Saturday, because I’d beat them up during the week and you can’t show up to church on Sunday unless your shoes are spit-shined and polished” Tom said.
I met Tom on Saturday when I popped into Joseph’s Shoes so Henry could shine my salt-stained black boots.
Tom watched with pride as Henry worked, and we chatted a bit.
Here’s the thing about an old-fashioned shoeshine: You leave with boots that look better than they did the day you bought them, and with an understanding that, as fragile as it is, life still rolls so much more sweetly with some strong elbow grease.
That’s the real beauty of a fresh shine.
And that’s the legacy of a special grandfather to a very cool 13-year old boy.