on the way a photo can bring up an obscure memory

When I was growing up, we kept all of our shoe-shining supplies in a small wooden orange-crate.

That might be one of the most anachronistic things I’ve ever written.

Yes, we polished our shoes.

I wore leather buckle or lace-up shoes to school.  All I wanted was a pair of black canvas Mary-Janes (my mother said they were not supportive enough) or a pair of Keds (they were not allowed with my school uniform).

My social misery was sealed by clopping off to school in my orthopaedic black oxfords every morning.  I am sure the nuns either felt sorry for me or wanted to roll me for my comfortable shoes.

My father had been in the Air Force, and knew a thing or two about spit-and-polish.  Fortuantely for my brother and me, even though he knew a thing or two, he cared not much at all about that particular kind of rule-following.

Which meant we didn’t polish our shoes very often.

Which meant in turn that my mother characterised me as being “hard on shoes”, a description I bristled at.  I was only hard on those shoes.  (It’s possible that I scuffed them on curbs.  And bus-stop benches.  And stairs.  Sorry, Mum.)

I would have been much more careful with a pair of cute black heels.  Just saying.

Still, we all knew where the supplies were and we all knew how to use them.

And yes, we kept the polish (several colours) and brushes (several shapes) and buffing cloths in a little wood-slatted box.  That used to contain oranges.  This was not a retro find discovered at a roadside antique store.  We had eaten those oranges.

We always called it the orange-box, not the shoeshine-box.

I polish my shoes even less often now, but I can go right to the tin and brush when I am ready: they are at the bottom of a plastic milk-crate in the hall closet, buried underneath spare light bulbs of all sizes and shapes.

Writing that sort of makes me wish I had a special, retro box for them.

Near my sister’s home in Vancouver, BC, there is a green grocer who displays his wares outside in most weather.  The oranges glowed in the murky, overcast light, calling me to take the photo above.  It wasn’t until I saw it on my computer that the memories flooded back.


  • It is fascinating how an object can lead to such deep memories. For me, I had a Christmas book when I was a child that was a scratch and sniff. The two best scents in that book were the pine tree and the orange because most of the others stopped working after only a few scratches. I have seen the book on bookshelves, and although I don’t scratch the pages, I sometimes sneak a quick smell (hey mommy why is that woman smelling that book!) because both those scents can be smelt without scratching. And yes that means that I can still be entertained by the simplest things.

  • I love that story, picturing child-Kim enjoying the book over and over, and also giggling at the image of Dr. Kim sneaking huffs in the kids’ book section of Barnes & Noble.

    I think it is both a gift and a blessing to be entertained by the simplest things.

    Yep, I keep telling myself that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

link to your last blog post with a check here