My first real paying job was shining the shoes of National Guardsmen in Little Falls and Camp Ripley. I was about 10 years old and the process was pretty simple: Build a shoe-shine box, buy a brush and some polish, get a few rags, and go downtown to compete against other kids for the nickels, dimes, and quarters from the soldiers.
The only problem shining in town was too many kids – as a result, too little money.
The next step was going into Camp, where the customers were congregated. Since it was about 8 miles, that meant that one of the moms would drive us to Camp, and another would pick us up. Sometimes we walked through the gate; sometimes we climbed the fence, but there were riches to be made.
I shined shoes, combat boots, and jump boots. If you could do a spit shine, you were in demand. There were times (1950-51) where, as a 10 or 11-year-old, I made as much money in a long day as my dad did in 2 weeks. After one of those “big money” days Dad offered to trade jobs, but he couldn’t do a spit shine.
- S. W.
Date of Essay: October 24, 2011