I learned the lesson of “Put your best foot forward” very early in life. As a child of a WWII veteran, who served his country bravely and proudly, I understood the importance of literally putting my best foot forward, front and center, polished and shined. No pair of shoes in our house went unpolished for very long. It didn’t matter if the shoes were old or new, they received a spit and polish on a regular basis. Usually on a Sunday night, Daddy carefully lined up all the shoes on the floor as he set out to do his duty. At the end of his task, every shoe could have passed the scrutiny of any officer, in any branch of the military. He had his shoeshine kit, which was nothing more than an old shoebox filled with the necessary equipment, stored and ready for use. The easily recognizable Kiwi shoe polish in its circular tin of dark and bronze colors for both black and brown shoes was the mainstay of his kit. There was also the liquid version of Kiwi white polish for those two small pairs of my sister and my white summer shoes or the baby shoes for the toddler who was taking first steps. Vaseline was on hand for any patent leather shoes, a multitude of old socks, and brushes completed the array. White cotton socks abandoned somehow in the washer, dryer, or one, which sported a hole in the toe or heel often, ended up in Daddy’s shoebox.
He used one of the discarded socks, which he placed over one hand to spread the polish, and then slipped his bare hand into the shoe just like a foot, entering the open space inside. He religiously pressed his sock-covered fingers into the semi-soft polish and worked his magic. After he applied polish of varying colors to all of the shoes, he waited for five or ten minutes so the polish could sink into the leather. Then he started back at the front of the line to begin the shining process. He used another sock, the polishing sock, to release the dullness of the polish and transform the leather to its new life of luster. His hand moved rapidly back and forth against the top, the sides, the heel and the tips of the shoes, leaving one newly shined area to tackle the next polish-laden part of the shoe. He continued his work until he was satisfied with the product, carefully laying the shoe back in its place, which resided quietly next to its partner. When all of the shoes were polished, he instructed us to come get them to put them away. As we picked up our shoes, he cautioned us to place our hands inside the shoes as we picked them up and not to touch the leather “just yet.”
That simple ritual of my childhood remains with me today. I have my own shoeshine kit, with the proverbial Kiwi polish of black, brown, navy and red. Vaseline and unmatched, abandoned socks are part of that kit, as those occupants await their duty, in their designated spot in my closet. Boots, high heels, flats and loafers. I hate to admit how many pairs of shoes I own, knowing that the number is greater than my mother or father ever owned in their lives. But, what I can tell you is that those shoes and boots are neatly stacked, in their boxes, on the shelves, inside my closet. Not one pair is scuffed or dull. In this and in many other ways, I learned to put my best foot forward, always. And, my shoes and I know that a man of honor, courage and duty is responsible for that gift.