Lesson #2 Let Wise Shoe Shiners Show You The Way

I watched my three year old twins run up and down the empty airport corridor, regretting that I arrived way too early. We were waiting in the airport in Madison, Wisconsin for my mother who had embarked on her own journey and was now returning from Israel. With not much else to do, we stopped at a bored looking shoe shiner, who looked as if he was wondering why he chose a city where no one cared about shiny shoes. He was a weathered looking man, with grey mixed into his black beard, and deep lines in his skin that told me he spent some good years in the sun. My boots were looking quite dreary from the long Wisconsin winter (and he looked like he had some good stories to tell) so I approached him. I pointed to my suede mukluks, and asked “Can you do these?”
He looked at my tired looking boots, and said “Sho’can” with a thick South drawl. The twins and I excitedly climbed onto the high chairs and enjoyed our new vantage point of the Dane County airport. He sprayed a can onto my first boot and began a rigorous buffing process as the twins happily kicked their feet, sending an echoing rhythm through the airport.
“Where are you from?” I asked, loving to hear stories of far off places. He told me: “Well, I lived in Chicago the past ten years, but before that, Texas. Made good money in Texas, because everybody’s got ‘dem cowboys boots. They understand the importance of keeping your boots looking nice.”
When he mentioned Texas, my ears perked up. My husband and I were researching moving the family to Austin—the Madison of the South. We were seeking an adventure. Texas, we figured, was as close to moving to a foreign country as we could get without needing passports.
“Oh, don’t go to Austin,” he said upon hearing our plans. “It’s really expensive. You should try New Braunsfels, Wimberly, or San Marcos. Nice, small towns. Good people.”
A small town sounded appealing. And besides, Shawn, my husband and I had been wondering if Austin was looking a bit too much like Madison. Thick, black rimmed glasses? Nose piercings? Tattoos in Sanskrit? Been there, done that. We needed something exotic, where ladies in truck stops called you Sugar, and everyone’s mama looked (and cooked) like Paula Dean. I anxiously pulled out my handy dandy notebook and scrambled for a pen. I asked him to repeat the names of the towns several times and together we tried to figure out how to spell the names of the towns. (Just as a side note: When said out loud, “New Braunsfels” sounds like you’ve got a mouth full of rattle snake eggs. It was impossible to spell without a computer nearby.)
At home I googled “Hill Country, Texas” along with my best guess at the town names and became instantly transfixed with images of the area’s rolling hills, winding rivers, and friendly people. This was the first time (but not the last) that I would fall in love with a place, without ever being there.
So, Mr. Shoeshine had not only brought new life to my boots but had also given me direction in my journey. I booked a flight for Shawn and my oldest son, left the twins with their grandparents, and we headed South to discover what we believed would be our future home.