My Daddy's Shine

Harry's ShoeShine.jpg

Three generations of family history in a wooden box


In addition to his career as a printer, my father was a maker, a fact unknown to me and my sister, until our teens, when I discovered the wide belt and wallet he had made for our mother before I, the eldest, was born.   Later, we learned the shoe shine box, on which we placed our feet for every special occasion, had also been made by him. Like many young boys—singer James Brown, activist Malcolm X and baseball player Sammy Sosa among them—my father earned spending money by shining shoes. 

 As kids, we placed one foot at a time on that box and watched our dad apply paste to our holiday shoes from a round can using a small rag.  Then he’d use a larger cloth, with a fluffy texture, to run briskly back and forth across the shoe.  We would marvel as the shine appeared. On occasion he’d add a little saliva between buffs, to which we would respond, “ugh”. I later learned something my daddy already knew, that the protein in saliva provides a glaze and thereby enhances the shine. I’ve shined my son’s shoes on this box, and when not wearing sneakers, I shine my own.  And occasionally, I add a little spit to carry on my father’s legacy and shine.

 By the way, during my teen years I rocked that belt, but never used the matching wallet. It’s in mint condition and I have a plan.  Also, two side tables sat in my grandmother’s living room for years before I learned my father made them; now they too live with me.


Photo and text © Jelani Bandele 2017

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