My Father’s Shoes


How shall I write of such a humble man? How to pay him the homage I know he deserves. My words are confining, far too simple and they fall so short. I don’t know how to begin to capture his gentle spirit and his quiet ways.

A smell came to me today, winding its way into my soul, searching out a memory that I had forgotten.

Me and Dad in front of the house on Main Street

As I walked the halls of the school where I work, I didn’t know the origin of that smell and it didn’t even matter. No, what mattered only was that this particular smell took me back to my childhood, back to the days I would stand beside my dad watching him polish his uniform shoes.

My father was an Illinois State Police Officer for 25 years, which was all of my childhood.  As I walked down the hall, the smell invaded my senses, all these pictures and feelings and smells swirled around me.

My mind took flight and there he was, my dad, scrubbing on his shoes with that old brush, the shoe polish box sitting nearby. There I saw him, so handsome in his police uniform, in our old kitchen with his foot placed upon a chair, bent over, intently polishing away. Man, how those uniform shoes would shine!

No one knew as I walked down that school hall that my eyes no longer saw them. No one knew that my smile was not for them. No one knew that it was my dad who walked beside me now, filling that hallway chock full of memories.

Mom and dad’s bedroom was the only passage to the bathroom in our house. We had to walk right past their bed, past the closet, always aware of his uniform hanging in there.  I still feel myself stopping to peek up into the closet they shared.  I still can feel the mystery that was his career.

For our friends, we would delight in pointing out his gun in its holster on that shelf and that bright shiny star pinned to his uniform shirt. Ah, yes, we were proud, but never did we dare to touch that sacred gun. My gentle Dad would surely have taken a belt to us if we had. Or so we thought.

He hung his uniform pants by a belt loop on a hanger there in that closet. We all knew that he kept lots of coffee change in those pants pockets. Sometimes we naughty children would help ourselves to a small handful of that change and race up to the local candy store for a sweet bit of heaven. Surely he missed his change now and then but he never did say a word. Perhaps it was his way of indulging without actually spoiling us.

I don’t think we ever really realized how special he was. He was just our dad.  He worked hard and long. It was just what he did. It was just our life. Besides being a policeman, he was a farmer and provider for us twelve kids. When he wasn’t at one job, he was at the other.

I remember how he would sometimes take a different road home from the farm and honk like crazy and stick his head out the open window. Yelling a wild Indian holler, he would swear he saw a real live Indian standing high on a cliff above us.

Birthdays were crazy special when he was home. He would grab us up and shove us under his bed. Taking a board and grabbing a hammer, he would yell that we weren’t allowed to get another year older. He would swear he was going to lock us up and throw away the key. He would proceed to hammer on the board threatening to keep us under the bed so we wouldn’t be able to grow up. We would scream and laugh, knowing he meant no harm.

He often patrolled the third shift and mother would shush us and make us be especially quiet on those days. Poor old dad needed his sleep she would tell us.

Tiptoeing through their darkened bedroom, we really did try hard not to wake him on our way to the bathroom. So many times we thought him sound asleep as we tiptoed through on our way back out. But alas, he would reach out to grab us with an unexpected yell.  It would scare us, and then make us laugh. We thought he didn’t have the time or energy to play with us. We were so wrong. He gave us what he could.  I wish it had never stopped

When he was home, he was worn out, dozing in his recliner, watching gun smoke or the evening news on T.V.  I remember taking his shoes and socks off and feeling really good to do this for him. I remember stretching up to shyly kiss his cheek before bed.  I still remember how his rough, day old whiskers would scratch my lips and the way his old spice aftershave mingled with cigarette smoke. Sometimes he would give a little growl and snap at me like a dog and I would jump and giggle.

I remember when I first began to feel silly giving him a goodnight kiss. I would slink behind my  little brother as he kissed him first. I would feel my cheeks turn red as I gave him a quick peck. I thought myself too big a girl to kiss my daddy goodnight.

I wish I had never stopped.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Mo
    Sep 12, 2012 @ 12:10:12

    Such sweetness about our dad….he was so special. Tears are tumbling as I read your words. Thank you for your memories.

    Reply

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