Saved From Shoe Polish


I’ve mentioned on several occasions the fact that I was incredibly spoiled as a child by my grandparents. I was the first grandchild and only grandchild for years and years, so I was the light of my grandparents’ life. One adventure in particular when I was very young perfectly illustrates the level of my rottenness where Papa and Granny Wham were concerned.

This took place early in my life. It is actually one of my earliest memories. I know it was early because it is one of the few memories I have of Mama and Daddy together so I was no more than five because that’s how old I was when they separated and the marriage imploded.

At that early age, I loved to polish shoes. In another time, I probably would have become a young shoeshine boy working at a barbershop or somewhere similar. As it was, I just polished all Papa Wham’s dress shoes over and over again. He joked that he had the “sharpest shoes at church every Sunday!” This hobby of mine figures large in a bit.

We were at Granny and Papa’s on a Sunday after church. It was common for us to ride up for Sunday dinner after church. Granny’s roast beef or fried chicken was a highlight of the week and we’d just finished a great meal from Granny’s kitchen. We had retired to the den. Papa Wham was stretched out on the couch. Granny was sitting across from him in an easy chair. Mama was at one head of the room in the recliner and Daddy was in the rocker next to the wall. I was sitting in the floor playing with Legos.

I was playing on Granny’s new rug. Now when I say “new,” I’m talking less than a month old. It still had that “new rug smell.” Granny bought it to cover the den floor. It was braided in a coil pattern and was a lovely combination of light and dark. Now you have to understand, Granny NEVER bought herself anything new. She was a child of the Great Depression and the lack of luxury in those times had left an indelible mark with her. She just didn’t spend money on what she considered unimportant things. The fact that she bought a brand new rug was a stretch for her most people today can’t imagine.

In any event, I was playing with my Legos and got bored, as a four or five year old will do and wanted a change. I put the Legos back in their box and pushed it into its place under the couch. Then I hopped up and went to the “pink” bathroom (as distinguished from the “black” bathroom — tile colors) and retrieved Papa’s shoeshine box from the bottom of the linen closet. As soon as I walked in the den carrying the box of polishes and brushes, Mama immediately said to put it back and play with something else, that I didn’t need to be polishing shoes on Granny’s new rug. Granny said, like she always did, that it was just fine and to let me play. Papa said his shoes could use a good shine.

So, there I was with Papa’s shoes in front of me and the box next to me. I searched among the polishes for the right shade to shine Papa’s shoes. Now most of the polishes were Kiwi paste waxes. Every pair of shoes had its own polish, reddish Cordovan, light brown, dark brown, and black. The shoes I was to polish this day were black so I pulled out a polishing rag and the can of black polish. It was empty! Now I couldn’t use another color; it would ruin the color of the shoes. Luckily for me, one alternative remained. Papa had a bottle of Saphir liquid black shoe polish. I pulled it out to use.

Once again, Mama and Daddy both shut me down and told me in no uncertain terms I was not to use a liquid polish on the new rug. It was bad enough I was risking Granny’s rug with any polish, but not liquid. Both of them told me to put it up. Granny, however, once again intervened and told them to leave me alone. I looked from parents to Granny and back. My parents were not happy, but they didn’t go against Granny.

I decided that was tacit permission to proceed and went to take the top off the liquid polish — the brand new, completely full bottle of liquid polish. It was stuck. Here is where things went south. Instead of asking Daddy or Papa to take the top off for me or even better, putting the polish up and getting my Legos back out, I forced the lid in my own grubby little child hands. It moved. Quickly. The top spun off faster than I anticipated and I lost my hold on the bottle. Just as you have all figured out by now, the bottle dropped to the new rug, mouth down, and the entire contents spilled out. A huge — HUGE — jet black spot was oozing across the brand new rug!

I was in shock and out of the corner of my eyes I saw Mama rise from her seat at the same time Daddy rose from his and both started towards me. I was going to die. I saw my short life pass before my eyes, reflected in the oily black shoe polish on Granny’s new rug. Granny got to me first! She scooped me up and started patting my back saying I didn’t mean any harm and to not punish me. Then she sat down with me on her lap and that was that. Mama and Daddy sat down in a huff, but once again, Granny’s will prevailed. All Papa did was shake his head.

They turned the rug around since the polish was soaked into the fibers and had now way to come up. When they change it end for end, the spot — which ended up being the size of a dinner plate — was mostly hidden by Granny’s easy chair. Granny and Papa would put down carpet throughout the house fifteen years later and that ugly black spot was still there when they threw the rug away. I always felt bad about ruining Granny’s rug and to be honest, I knew I deserved whatever Granny had saved me from that day. I never polished another pair of Papa’s shoes again.

That’s how spoiled I was. I’m not proud of it, but I never doubted how much my grandparents loved me. Papa and Granny are both gone now and I miss them terribly because no love is the same as the love of a grandparent and now that’s gone from me.

Love y’all and keep your feet clean!

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