I got an email from my brother, Bill, with the sad news that his friend and neighbor, Joe Boyson, had passed away. I know Bill and my dad will miss Joe very much, even more than they miss his old dog, Jake. But the death of Joe Boyson is also a loss for the city where he spent his whole life, repairing shoes in a little shop on the main street. I know, people don't get their shoes repaired anymore. They throw them out and buy new ones. But the American Shoe Repair shop was one of the few remaining links with the bustling city that Elyria used to be, and with Joe gone, one more reminder of that time is gone, as well.
When I was a little girl, it seemed like every trip downtown included a stop at the shoe repair shop. My dad's wingtips needed re-soled or my mother's purse strap had broken. My brothers and I loved going in there. The dark, narrow shop had a wonderful smell. It was the smell of shoe polish and leather, of course, but also the smell of the belts and pulleys and brushes on the well-oiled machines behind the half-wall at the rear of the shop. How exciting it was when the machinery was actually running!
We were fascinated, as well, by the row of six or eight raised chairs along the wall to our right. In all the many times I went in there, I never saw them in use, but they were shoe shine chairs. The customers would sit resting their feet on the two narrow iron stands in front of each chair to have their shoes polished. We were not allowed to clamber up onto the tall chairs, but I always wanted to.
Along the left-hand wall of the shop was a large wooden shelf with cubbyholes holding the shoes and boots and purses of Elyria. Each of them had a tag on a twist of wire so they could be claimed by their owners. On the counter, there were racks with little drawers holding shoe laces of every size and color, and a round spinning rack that held little tins of Kiwi shoe polish in a dozen colors. Cordovan was always my favorite.
Old Mr. Boyson, Joe's dad, would be behind the counter, and to me, he looked exactly like the cobbler in every children's book I had ever seen. He was short and bald with bushy white eyebrows above glasses worn low on his nose, and he always wore a dark apron over his white shirt. When Joe was there, as well, he was usually working in the back, and I picture him wearing a sort of smock, like a druggist would wear. He was tall, with a full head of dark hair, and I am surprised to think how young he must have been back then.
Joe is gone now, and the shoe repair shop closed. It is a loss for his friends and neighbors, and a loss for his city, as well. I hope he will be remembered by them all. I know I won't forget him.