Does anyone remember the smell of Kiwi brand shoe polish? Those iconic cans with the little
lock thingy that held the black (or brown) waxy paste that had a smell and a feel all its own. I’m
not sure how many people actually polish their shoes anymore, either because of the variety of
shoe fashion with textures or the lack of fashion that requires dress shoes (dress flip flops
anyone?) or if people just don’t care anymore.
In my youth (that long-ago time before most of you were born), it was a requirement and
expectation that your dress shoes, regardless of how often you wore them, would be
maintained at a high gloss and superior shine at all times. It was considered a mark of attention
to detail, good raising and a benchmark for how well your parents, particularly your father, had
passed on the age-old tradition of exactly HOW to polish your shoes.
Now, before the feminist jump on this, back then (circa 1970s) ladies simply did NOT polish
shoes, nor wear shoes that required polishing. Ladies wore patent leather (permanent shine) or
fabric dress shoes. Never was it ever considered lady like to besmudge one’s hands with shoe
But boys were taught by their fathers the fine art of polishing the shoe. My father kept a
wooden box kit in his closet, consisting of polish, rags (preferably from a cut up, worn out white
undershirt, those Kiwi bristle brushes, and as we got fancier, those foam polish applicators, but
us poor Southern men made do with a rag wrapped around our fingers. For our dress shoes, we
also had edge dressing, Q-tips for cleaning and that was it.
My Pop was a telephone lineman. He climbed poles every day for 30 plus years. He wore work
boots that you could see yourself in. Why you ask? Doesn’t that seem like a waste of time?
They are just going to get dirty and scuffed tomorrow. Yep. They sure did. But every night, after
dinner, he would grab that kit, clean those boots and whistle while he polished those work
For me, it was a mark of transition to manhood when my Dad ‘allowed’ me to shine his boots.
After many months of instruction, I relished the opportunity to be the one to polish Pop’s
boots. Today’s generation would likely scoff, thinking this a demeaning and subservient act.
Hardly, it as to me, the highest honor and form of respect for my hard-working Pop.
As it turned out, this training served me well after I decided to make the military my path in life.
In Army bootcamp, the first thing you learn to do is spit shine boots. In this, I was ahead of the
game, it garnered me respect from my new peers and allowed me to get my first taste of
instruction and leadership. Heady stuff, indeed.
So today, I rarely get to smell that Kiwi smell, but when I do, I think fondly of my Pop, my time
at his side, learning the art of the shine, the discipline, the attention to detail and the
consideration for my impression to others it left with me.
Go shine your shoes.