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"The Pine Box," by John Gower

Gary Miller

My father owned a pine box that had brass hinges and a lock that kept the top from opening up until you were ready to open it. Inside he kept shoe polish and shoe brushes and rags. Screwed onto the top was a wooden stand shaped like the sole of a shoe with a cut out where the heel of a shoe fit. This box acted as a sort of miniature shoe-shine stand. When I was young he gave my brother and I the job of shining his shoes. My mother soon learned to make sure we put newspaper down first. It could get messy.

When my father died I inherited the box and polishes and brushes. My brother inherited his wooden shoe trees that are used to keep the shape of the shoe sturdy when they’re not being worn.

My father was a salesman and having a good shine on his shoes was important. I was surprised when his obituary came out of how many clubs he belonged to. He was the past president of a few of them. He was a real go-getter. I think this may have been because his father eventually committed suicide and he felt bad about it. My uncle told me this, my father never did. It’s strange what motivates us. Though we may point to this or that I think unconsciously we swim in our family’s unfinished business. We return to the comfort of where we’re spawn.

I became a salesman, too. Dad and I worked side by side. We both had well polished shoes and great smiles. He once split the cost with me so I could attend a week-long Dale Carnegie Salesmanship course. I still remember the CRIAC method for overcoming objections: Cushion, Repeat, Isolate, Agreement, and Commitment. Later on I learned that the new, new method was building relationships, not overcoming objections. So it goes…

I never joined many clubs, unless you call Alcoholics Anonymous a club. My Dad’s dad drank himself to death, so did one of his brothers. A friend once joked, Yeah, but they weren’t that bad. I wasn’t that bad either, though I wrecked every car I ever owned and often forgot about appointments. I did however have nicely polished shoes. I was somebody.

When my father died I quit buying the kinds of shoes you have to polish and then I quit selling real estate and then I quit drinking. I never liked competing for the business. I got a job in a warehouse. I liked getting things done.  

I’ve moved so many times since he died that somewhere along the way I must have decided the box took up too much room and ditched it. I feel the same way about drinking. It was taking up too much room. Recently I became a drug and alcohol counselor. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see what sort of unfinished family business I’ve been working on.

I never felt an overwhelming compulsion or need to compete or be someone special. In fact I tell people the good news for modern man is; at least, you don’t have to live forever. I don’t imagine my obituary will read very well. In fact, I don’t imagine there will be very many at my wake. You could say I’m not very polished. Mistakes and me; well, we get along pretty well. And besides, like my mother said, polishing things up can get pretty messy.