Sometimes, memories are not things you actually recall.
The theory crossed my path this year, that there is no such thing as forgetting. This has intrigued me since I encountered it, and it's a bit of a wonderful thing to have floating around in the brain, especially for a writer.
This week, the idea was brought home to me in a physical way; I experienced a memory that hasn't been in my recall for at least thirty years, perhaps longer. Unsurprisingly, the stimulus to this recollection was a smell.
Thanks to the generosity of Cute Shoes and a little bump to two gift certificates, I received my first pair of American Duchess boots. When I opened the box, the scent was of leather and shoe polish; an authentic smell - not the odor of synthetics and dye, but the smell I remember from Thom McAnn boxes of my childoood. Shoes made out of leather - all leather - real leather - and that touch of shoe polish that speaks to a pair of shoes meant to be taken care of and built to grow dull, but then to be freshened up again.
Shoes for the past couple of decades at least have not been designed to be taken care of. You can wear them until the seams go or the finish dies - and then it is time to buy new. Few shoes, apart from exceptional boots, have been made, for a long time now, with an eye to maintaining them; to keeping them.
These shoes are constructed of strong stuff, and are already polished.
And they will be polished again.
One of the things I received after my dad died - hardly what you might call an "inheritance" in the vein of the portrait of Einstein I love, or the gold watch my brother does - was dad's shoe polishing kit. The old wooden box with the small, shoe-shaped stand on it. The once-stiff, now curved-with-much-use wooden-handled brush. A rag or two, with dabs of polish (the applicator, essentially). And even the polish. I never could quite throw away dad's old polish, though I actually did have some of my own.
Shoe polish has the smell about it of special occasions. Church, when we needed to spiff up the maryjanes and dad put a shine on his own big, smooth shoes. Taking mama out for a night, while my brother and I had sauteed hummingbird tongues for supper (some may imagine this was actually boxed macaroni ... some may have less flair for description than my dad did).
It was a funny thing, rediscovering New Shoe Smell after so many years, and never having thought about it in the interim. It is a smell of the 70s, a smell of family, a smell of quality - and Christmas - and the excitement of new clothes, for a family whose budget for them was constrained, which made them special.
Trying the boots on, I remembered how the salesman would scootch up in front of you at the shoe store, put your foot on the weird metal sizing tool with the black field and little lines. I remembered how they'd put on the shoes for you, pulling them out of the box and unbuckling or lacing them, and taking your ankle and shimmying first one and then the other foot into the new shoes. I remembered the ritual standing in front of mama, salesman bent down to feel the toe box while my feet were standing in the new shoes.
When's the last time you had an actual fitting in a shoe store ... ? Have you ever? It used to be a "thing" - those metal fitting slide-rules ubiquitous, once upon a time.
And once upon a time I got new boots, in a century-old style, of half-century old quality I had thought must be long gone.
I may need to buy new shoe polish.