By Erika Webb
His office is a storage shed in a downtown DeLand parking lot. His tools: cloths, brushes, polish and gratitude.
"Bootblack professional" is Rufus Pinkney's self-appointed title. Unofficially, he's known as the shoeshine man. Most DeLand residents can't remember a time when he wasn't around.
Mr. Pinkney will be 81 in June and has shined shoes in Palatka, St. Augustine and DeLand for 70 years.
"The Lord just blessed me. I just picked it up," Mr. Pinkney said. "I saw others older than me and I learned it."
"We didn't have no choice but to learn how to do certain things. There's a lot to it," he said. "You got to build colors into the shoes to make the shoes look pretty."
Rufus Pinkney's Deluxe Shoe Shine Parlor has been in many different locations around the city.
"I was at a shoe repair shop, a barber shop ... I've moved so many times," he said. "Then the city gave me this spot here to do shoes because I was (up-to-date) in this business and I had a good record."
That good record, he said, came from doing the right thing, standing up for what he believes in, and giving good service at a "nominal price."
Mr. Pinkney said his mother "well-raised" her 15 children.
"My mama was an Indian woman, Cherokee like," he explained. "She had long coarse hair. She was a little woman, a neat woman. She swished when she walked."
He laughed at the memory.
Having gratitude for small things, not just the big ones, seeking God and believing before seeing are the shoe-shine man's main philosophies.
And no frolicking, "doing things you shouldn't be."
"Without faith your works are dead because you don't have the belief," Mr. Pinkney said. "God is not like us. You have to come to the Lord for understanding; you have to seek him."
If he had plenty of money Mr. Pinkney would start a school to teach his trade to young people.
"I desire to see other people learn this. In this business here, you have to learn when you're coming up," he said. "That helps keep a lot of children out of foolishness."
He's nostalgic about the days when shoe dyeing was popular. He liked mixing the colors and getting them just right. But Mr. Pinkney said shoes aren't made like they once were, and the company that made many of the dyes he used has gone out of business.
He compared shoes from the 1940s to today's cars.
"The cars you see, the shoes were that color in that time," Mr. Pinkney said. "Then, you saw black, brown, blues, purple, pink, silver. You don't see 'em now like you use to."
Through the years he has polished the shoes of doctors, lawyers, undertakers, teachers, police officers and business owners.
"Men, women ... I'm talkin' about updated people, people that look good. I don't play around with people who wear junk," Mr. Pinkney said.
But times have changed and shoes along with them. He said women don't wear closed-toe shoes as much anymore. Many shoes are made of materials other than leather, and don't hold the polish.
Many of his customers are no longer living.
"Time was a person could do this and get by," he said. "No matter what I know or how good I do, if I don't get the customers, it doesn't matter."
Softness and shine come from the polish, Mr. Pinkney said. And adding oil to the leather during manufacturing "takes away the shine."
Working the cloths and brushes with a light touch is the key to a glossy result, he said. Bearing down too hard is not the way.
"You gotta be limber and light handed," he said. "You can't be heavy handed or you'll burn the leather, and the shoe will be dull."
He demonstrated his point by bearing down with the cloth on a customer's shoe, dulling the finish.
Joseph Faith, a contractor, is a regular customer. He buys good shoes and likes having a place to "get them taken care of" when they get dirty. He said there's "no sense buying new shoes all the time."
"When he gets done they look like they're just out of the box," Mr. Faith said. "People look at your shoes before they look at anything else, and that's good for business."
Standing, bent at the waist, Mr. Pinkney seemed barely to hold the brushes and cloths as he swiftly stroked Mr. Faith's shoes to a gleam. The process took less than five minutes.
"The thing about this job, you have a lot of exercise. You gotta be active or you can't do stuff," he said.
Will he retire?
"I don't have the money to retire," Mr. Pinkney said. "I have to work to make a living. I like what I'm doing."
He said the shoeshine business has its "ups and downs" and is not a "sure thing."
"It's a faith job. If you don't have faith you can't receive. Trust in the Lord and do good," Mr. Pinkney said. "If you got faith you receive."
It's not unusual to find Mr. Pinkney's son, Rufus Pinkney Jr., sitting quietly in a chair keeping his dad company. Or, maybe it's the other way around. The younger Mr. Pinkney, who looks no older than 35, worked 30 years for the City of DeLand, retired and started a lawn-service business.
He pointed out the newspaper clippings, framed and hanging on the walls, of articles about his locally famous dad. He listened intently while Mr. Pinkney talked a little about life and a lot about shoes.
Mr. Pinkney and his wife also raised a daughter, Sharon Pinkney, who works for Volusia County.
His wife passed away in 1998.
All in all, the shoeshine man said he's "doin' all right" and feels good. He moves around with ease. He's spry. Even his hands don't show a trace of arthritic stiffness, just a little shoe polish and dye residue on the fingernails.
"Leather heals," Mr. Pinkney said. "Other shoes don't heal, don't breathe. The leather shoe is a good shoe, is from the cow, so it's got life in it."