Monday, February 25, 2008
There is something intrinsically comforting about the smell of black shoe-polish, I have decided. When I was younger, dad was still in the National Guard, and while he never went overseas when I was around, there were still many long journeys to distant states for prolonged periods of time, for training, schooling, training others, and other things regarding the care, keeping and proper usage of large metal tanks. Dad became quite the expert on packing for these ventures, slight OCD and meticulous care serving him well in a military environment. He knew every trick for saving space, packing exactly what he needed, and had the whole process down to a flawless routine.
When I was quite small, I found this routine absolutely fascinating. I would watch as well-worn grey and white t-shirts got rolled up into neat rolls, everything that was in green camo flat and folded and packed neatly away. When dad brought out his shoe-shining kit, I’d be sure to have my little black mary-janes ready for him too, waiting alongside his big black combat boots. We’d usually had something on tv…Jeopardy, or Austin City Limits, depending on what night it was. And while country music played, I’d watch dad carefully shine his boots. When I was really little, I would pick out one of the rolled up t-shirts, and pretend it was a baby doll. When I was a little older, we’d try to see who could answer the most questions on Jeopardy. And the next day he’d be gone for a long time, and we’d all be a bit glum. But I always looked forward to the night before he left, and I always knew that no matter how long he was gone, he would still come home again.
A week ago, I found myself at the commissary again, buying those ever-familiar grey PT t-shirts, only now they said NAVY across the chest instead of ARMY (“I can’t fold over the R to make my name anymore!” “…What?” “Long story…”) . Whites and new running sneakers and many socks followed. A can of Kiwi black shoe polish was tossed into our cart. Ah, old friend, how I’ve missed you. That evening, I sat cross-legged on the floor of our apartment, helping Rick pack up his sea-bag. A.F.I was playing on the laptop and we were quizzing each other on obscure movie knowledge, as he polished his work boots, and I rolled up t-shirts. At one point, his friend James came by to pick something up, and saw me folding. “Wow, you’re good at that.” To which I responded, “I learned from the Master.”
That night the Husbot set out everything he would need for the next day, work uniform, watch, freshly polished shoes, socks, all in order where he would remember them. The next day he would be gone for a long time, and I’d be more than a bit glum. But I am comforted in a manner most familiar. I know that no matter how long he is gone, there will always be a meticulous shoe-polisher coming home to me.