I never knew how shiny my black Rockports they were supposed to be. All I knew is that if they weren’t shiny enough for my mission president I’d get yelled at in front of the other elders.
So I’d sit on the floor with my back against my bed with a can of Kiwi polish in one hand and a cotton rag in the other. I’d only been in Germany six months but was learning quickly how to spit polish my dress shoes. I was with my fourth companion, and each of them taught me their secret to getting the best shine. Some swore by a certain brand of polish. Others used a special rag with just the right percentage of cotton or nylon. One elder would only apply polish with pantyhose.
But I had my own process that was working well. In the same manner I’d extract just the chocolate from a carton of Neapolitan ice cream, I’d carefully cut a section of polish and place it in the lid. Then I’d take a lighter and heat the bottom of the lid until the polish melted down about half way. With a very thin cotton rag, I’d swirl the polish around until it was thin enough to seep into the crevices on my shoes. Occasionally, I’d wet the tip of the rag with my tongue which made the polish shine when brushed.
The key to getting a shine that would last more than a few hours was to apply at least three layers of polish. It wasn’t uncommon to spend a hour or two per shoe before important meetings we knew the mission president would attend.
As strange as it may sound, I enjoyed this time immensely. It gave me time to chat with my companion about sports and girls or whatever was on our minds at the time. One evening we ate several pounds of cashews and were sick the next day. My companion at the time was a guy I met at the training center in Provo, Utah. We became good friends, and the month we spent together in Unna, Germany was one of the best of my two year mission.
I’m reminded of this time of my life whenever I hear Pink Floyd’s “Momentary Lapse of Reason” which was released about the same time I arrived in Germany. My companion had it on cassette, and it became the backdrop to our weekly shoe shining sessions.
One slip, and down the hole we fall
It seems to take no time at all
A momentary lapse of reason
The binds a life for life
Songs like One Slip and On the Turning Away captured how lonely and isolated I felt at times. It brought a small portion of Utah to our tiny apartment. The music helped keep me going from one slammed door in the face to the next. The instrumental songs like Terminal Frost were soothing to the soul, and each song gave us a topic to discuss. Pink Floyd takes some time to appreciate. Most songs take a few listens. Maybe they are an acquired taste. But their music reaches me like few other bands have.
Eventually we’d come to the conclusion that our shoes were as shiny as we could make them. Once I could see my reflection in the shoe I knew I had it. We had an early train to catch the next morning and it was getting late.
We awoke early the next morning and put on our suits, ties and freshly polished shoes before jumping on our bikes and peddling as fast as we could to the train station.
We finally made our way to the church. I knew my shoes looked good. I’d checked them about 50 times on ride in. No way was I getting yelled at today! It wasn’t long before I noticed the mission president and his wife greeting elders just outside the chapel. Why not walk over and shake hands now and get this little game out of the way?
So I started walking towards the mission president. But before I could reach him, his wife put her hand on my shoulder and yelled, “Stop!”
She glanced down at my shoes without saying a word. She then checked the creases on my pants. They were neatly pressed as was my jacket which she asked me to remove to check my white long sleeve shirt. It was pressed as well. Even my silk tie had stayed in place.
Yes, I had passed the test! Was it ok to smile?
As I reached my arm out to shake her hand she barked, “Your hair is too long. Get it cut”.
Picture by Darwin Bell