Since I was 5 years old, I’ve had a special dislike for shoes that are not shined. In fact, to this day it is virtually impossible for me to attend an event that includes my wearing leather shoes that are not clean and shiny.
You should see my handy work with my well-worn shoe brush and the old cotton cloth I use for the finishing touches. Truth is, I was a shoeshine nerd, long before I ever began to “nerd-out” on poetry. (And shining shoes was actually the first job I ever had at the local barbershop as well.)
It was the simple philosophy of Jim Ferguson. It was Mr. Ferguson who gave me this special nickname, Zeek and who taught me that shiny shoes were the unmistakable sign of good character.
He and his own kids, wife and family lived right next door to us on Dinglewood Avenue. This was the 975 square foot house I grew up in on the working class side of Charlotte, North Carolina. Mr. Ferguson was not very outgoing nor highly educated. Their family car was old. Their house as small as ours. He worked the evening shift at the main post office in Charlotte, sorting thousands of pieces of mail each night. And yes, of course he had not fancy, but always shined shoes.
But there was one thing Mr. Ferguson consistently excelled at. One thing he did even better than shining shoes or sorting the U.S. Mail. He was an expert at sharing a kind of simple happiness. He had an advanced degree in being interested in the things a young boy loved. He always had time to be duly impressed with some new rock, wiggling bug or just about any other amazing thing my 5-year-old self had discovered.
On Christmas Day I couldn’t wait to show him my new bike. He had a special reception and smile just for that annual ritual.
Once I remember being surprised and thrilled when I received a piece of mail that had been intercepted at the post office and inscribed, “Hello Zeek!” Of course, I knew who the friendly gremlin was who added the custom comment.
Mr. Ferguson is no longer with us. After our family moved when I was 13, I didn’t see him very often at all. I had so little time for such visits when I was in my teens and twenties. I regret that now.
But I tell you this. Every time I pick up a can of shoe polish and that brush I’ve had for decades, I can’t help but think to myself… “Keep your shoes shined Zeek!” It’s a reminder of the wonderful mentors I’ve had in my life for which I am deeply grateful.
Here is a poem of immense gratitude dedicated to Mr. Ferguson. It is called “Arms Full” written by Rebecca del Rio.