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Old boots still have a gleam for memories

Photo by Vicki Harris

Photo by Vicki Harris

I don't know how you girls do it," a voice said, and I turned around and saw him, sitting by the wall in a metal chair, a worn, green hat in his hands. He wore khaki pants and a working man's boots and his shirt was blue. Once a farmer, maybe, I didn't know, but something told me he was somebody who liked being outdoors. A woman came up beside me and asked to go around. I was in the way. I sat down.

"How girls do what?" I couldn't help but ask, and he chuckled and pointed to my shoes.

Heels. I had on heels.

"How you girls walk around in those things," he said, and I laughed a little, myself, and told him I don't do it very well. "I've fallen down plenty of times," I told him. He laughed again. Not a big laugh. Just a little one.

"My wife wouldn't be caught in the light of day without her heels on, and I never understood why that was so. Looks uncomfortable to me," he said. "Looks nice, but sure enough uncomfortable."

I couldn't argue. He was right, and I told him so.

"My feet usually hurt by the end of the day. Like now," I said. He pointed to his boots, brown and worn, with a little bit of red dirt caked in the sole. Just a little.

"See these boots?" he asked and I nodded. "I've had these same boots for 14 years. Ones before that, I had for 20. I just keep getting the bottoms re-done. My wife threatened to throw them away a hundred times but I wouldn't let her."

Then he told me how when he was growing up, they didn't get new shoes but one time a year. If he grew out of his shoes, he best hope his older brother grew out of his, too, so he could get those. "We went barefooted in the summertime," he said. I told him I'd go barefooted all the time if I could. That made him smile.

"No, not any sense in getting rid of perfectly good shoes," he said and brushed at his boots. "I just pull out my shine kit and clean them up when they get dirty."

A shine kit. My daddy used to have one, a wooden box filled with little metal cans of shoe polish and strips of rags, I told him. Daddy would pay me to polish his boots. Fifty cents or a quarter, I don't remember. I would have done it for free, just because I thought it was fun.

"What was the name of that polish with the little metal things on the side that you turned to open the can?" I asked myself out loud. Just talking about it made me remember that smell, waxy and strong, in colors like camel and cordovan and midnight black.

"Kiwi," he said. "I bet it was Kiwi." And I bet he was right.

"My wife wouldn't let me shine my boots in the house, always made me go on the porch," he said and then he got quiet. He wasn't smiling. Just staring at his boots.

The pharmacist called his name and he got up, putting his green cap on his head. He turned my way.

"Thank you for taking my mind off things," he said. "We would have been married 58 years today." I didn't ask, but something told me she was gone.

Then he said something I don't think I'll forget for a while.

"I think I'll go home and shine my shoes. She'd like that." And he smiled. Just a little smile. But he smiled. And then he was gone.

I don't know what it is, but something tells me he shined them on the porch.

Contact columnist Mandy Flynn at flyn1862@bellsouth.net.