Once a month, on a Sunday night, I polish my two pairs of dress shoes. Both pairs are black. (To wear brown shoes with dark suits, I understand, is a sartorial offense.)
I place an old newspaper on the kitchen counter and go to a closet in the bedroom. On a shelf is a battered shoe-polish box.
This wooden box is the only object I've ever made with my own hands. I made it in carpentry shop at elementary school. The teacher helped me. Using a pencil and ruler, with a firm hand he drew straight lines on a wooden board. I was to follow each line with a saw.
I did my best, but I was inexact. The pieces had jagged ends. I nailed the pieces together to form the box, but none were aligned. Two hinges were used to attach the cover. I painted the box blue, my favorite color.
I brought the box home and received polite parental praise for it. Both mother and the shop teacher must have realized that my future, whatever it might hold, lay not in the industrial arts.
To this day, the box contains a tin of black shoe polish, a brush for applying the polish, and a hand brush and shoe cloth for polishing and shining. I should polish my shoes more often. Walking as I do about 20 miles a week on New York City streets, they become scuffed. My reluctance comes from an inability to polish shoes without blackening my fingers.
Years after this introduction to carpentry, when I was serving as a counselor at a boy's camp in Maine, I was put in charge of the wood shop. My selection made no sense, but things worked out well.
I had a talented young assistant who taught the campers what they needed to know about carpentry. My responsibility lay in preventing the boys from hammering their fingers, or doing worse bodily harm. Much of the time in the shop I read, that summer completing the works of Somerset Maugham.
After polishing my shoes in the kitchen, I return the box to its shelf in the closet .
My shoe box has served me well for more than 50 years; a functional, if not aesthetic success. It is one of my oldest possessions, and one of the few from childhood.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor