THE SHOE SHINE MAN AND THE CATERER

By Nowell Briscoe

Most Sunday mornings, when the weather was nice, before my father would drop me off for Sunday school, he would always drive down to 425 North Broad Street to a small house with a neat white fence enclosing the front yard.  By the side of the house was a concrete walkway leading to the rear of the house ending up in front of a tiny, ramshackled building. In the front corner of the yard next to the walkway was a sign with an arrow pointing to the back that read, “Shady Lane Shoe Shine Shop”.  The owner of this shop was Buddy Conyers, a small, slight, white haired black man with a big smile, who was known all over Monroe as simply, “the shoe shine man”.

Boyd Conyers, better known to most of Monroe as “Buddy”, was the man you went to when you wanted a shine on your shoes so bright you could almost see your reflection.  Before he began his craft of shining shoes, Buddy worked for 32 years for the Farmer’s Bank, was a mail carrier for the city and worked for my grandfather in the cotton business. During most of that time, he had always dabbled with shoes, making sure the shoes the folks he worked for always were shined to perfection. When he finally decided to work full time on shoe shining, he applied his craft in the barbershop of Jack Ash on Broad Street.  

When your shoes were dull, scuffed and cracked, sometimes resembling the owner’s disposition, all it took was about ten minutes or so on a comfortable bench with your feet on stands where Buddy worked his magic on your shoes and, as it seemed, your conscience, so that when he was finished with your shoes, your disposition was as bright as the leather on your feet.  

In those days, a shoe shine was priced at 15 cents, not a bad price to pay to get a smile on your shoes as well as your face.  Most of the men who came to Buddy for a shine would sometimes let their thoughts escape and who better to hear about it than Buddy.  He could usually turn the most dour, depressing or unpleasant situations into something totally different.  He was no soothsayer by any means; all he did was to listen and sometimes pass along some homespun wisdom or an event that happened to him similar to the problems he heard.  No matter what the trouble, Buddy usually had a remedy to impart, which often times brought him a very generous tip along with the cost of the shine.

When age finally caught up with Buddy (no one in town really knew how old he was, but we suspected that he was “way up there” because of his head full of gray hair) he took his bench and stands to his modest home on North Broad and with the help of friends and some financial backing from various of his long time customers, of which my father was one, he opened up The Shady Lane Shoe Shop so he would not have to walk so far and still be able to do the work he loved.

Buddy’s wife, Louelle, was very possibly one of the best cooks in Monroe.  She was probably Monroe’s first caterer, as she was the one the women went to when parties, weddings, or other social events were being planned.  It was general consensus that no one had the magical touch with food like Louelle.  She recalled that her first catering job was a musical event for Mrs. John M. Nowell, Sr., whose guest list numbered around 85. From there she went on to become the “one to go to” when an event was being planned.  In an article on Louelle in the Walton Tribune in the late 70’s, Louelle passed along the recipes of several of her most requested and prized dishes.  When one of her friends or customers had an illness or death in the family, Louelle never asked if she could provide something for the family; she went in her kitchen and within a few hours one of her special dishes had arrived at the home, letting the family know that Louelle knew of the situation and wanted the family to have some of her food. 

In today’s world it seems that there is a catering business in every town.  But try to find a “shoe shine man” like old Buddy, calm, gentle and serene. Those are few and far between.  In the years since Buddy died in 1966, I have had my shoes shined by a few still in the business, but no one could ever get the right kind of shine on my shoes that Buddy did and I sorely miss his gentle attentions to the leather on my feet along with his kind smile and homespun wisdom.