October 23, 2018

Sunday Morning Shine

When I was a child, my father would cook breakfast for the family every Sunday morning. Canned salmon sauteed in liquid, eggs, green peppers and onions served over rice. Toast with blobs of butter melted and browned under the broiler of the oven.  Milk for me and my three sisters and coffee for him and my mother. (Sometime around the time I turned 16, there was a coffee cup set for me at the table when I came down for breakfast.) It was the same breakfast every Sunday morning which was both beautiful and monotonous. Unfortunately as a child, I didn’t appreciate the beauty of it. But I certainly enjoyed the taste of it.

After breakfast, my mom, sisters and I would return to our bedrooms to continue dressing for church. My dad would put on his shirt and tie, Sunday suit, Sunday shoes, Stetson hat and then walk the four blocks or so to Herron Avenue to get a shoe shine. The shoe shine was one of the luxuries the community afforded. Some of the few famous black faces we saw on television shined shoes on the Jack Benny Show or Amos 'n' Andy, or in Jerry Lewis movies. Teenage boys in the neighborhood would fashion shoe shine boxes out of pieces of wood, and fill it with rags, a few tins of shoe shine paste, and with a lot of spit make a few cents to spend on movies or comic books.

I imagine getting away from five females who were trying to get dressed on a Sunday morning was a welcome respite for my dad who worked six days a week to support us. A shoe shine must have been very significant to him. He often walked about 10 miles to and from work when the city streetcars weren’t running due to bad weather or strikes, or simply didn’t show up on time. Sometimes he would come home from work and his feet would be hurting him so badly that we would fill the tin tub with water for him to soak them. I wish I could say my role in this process was cheerful. I can say I filled the tub without comment or hint of attitude. Otherwise, I probably would not be here today to tell the story. Rightfully so!

On Sunday mornings, for five or ten cents, someone would shine my dad’s shoes until the sunlight bounced off of them. He was walking with pride when he returned home to pick us up. And we were off to church. Well fed, well dressed, and looking good!