I had more than my fair share of memorable moments and lesseons learned from this past Winter Fire, but one in particular has stuck with me: I will always schedule myself for the last bootblacking shift of an event.
The last two hours of my chair time at DO:WF were hectic, and challenging, and I would not trade them for the world. I can’t even tell you how many people sat in my chair. Person after person put their leather in my hands.
I was nervous at first, but when I saw the long list of people waiting, and it dawned on me the limited amount of time we had, I found myself dropping into a zone I had not felt before.
Fast forward to this past weekend at Frolicon. I scheduled myself for eight hours of blacking, two four hour shifts over the two days, one of which included the last shift of the event. My chair time was not as hectic as it had been in February, but it was still something altogether amazing.
Just a year ago, I was a novice bootblack. I sat and watched as Elegant worked, taking pointers from her wealth of experience. Previous to that event, I had only blacked for friends, never publicly. Elegant offered up her kit to me, and a new friend sat for me to black his boots. He took pictures I later posted to my Fet.
This past weekend could not have felt more different from last year. I was confident. I felt sure of my skills. No more nerves. No more fear. I sat in my chair and waited to perform my service.
As the last shift ended, after I’d had a couple dozen people cycle in and out of my care, I felt great. I packed up my supplies with a smile.
But my new found confidence was not the only reason for my happiness. As the last bootblack finished work on her last piece of leather, others gathered in the area. Her friends blocked the view right beside my stand. A person served as a table, holding boots to be gifted.
When the last bootblack finished, her friends parted. Her mentor spoke words for and about her. There were hugs and tears and cheers. The last bootblack was gifted a shiny pair of boots of her own, showing her progress in her craft, her care, her dedication to her work, all that she had learned over 14 months of instruction.
As her mentor laced up the new boots with pretty pink chord, I stood on the side of the circle, seeing all the faces of her friends. In that moment, I felt something stir inside me.
I wanted that, the community, the fidelity, the shared comradery of this group of folks in leather.
I am not where she is, nor have I had the training she’s had. Still, I am a bootblack (though maybe just a baby bootblack). Each time I sit down and work, I am learning. I am grateful for my haphazard training, for the many voices who’ve guided me along the way this past year and a half, and for those who will teach me more as I grow in my craft.
And I hope, one day, I too will have that moment of a gift of leather.
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