Catholic Journeyman

~by Louis Templeman

August 24, 2016: A Good Kiwi Shine


Childhood memories are hooks in our imaginations that, if understood, can sometimes drag out seminal moments from our past and unlock hidden mysteries of how our personalities were formed. Often, these memories only offer a fleeting motion in a complex dance. I have a small store of such memories that pop into my mind at very odd moments, leaving me wondering: why did I think of that?

One memory recently had its mystery solved for me. It may be because of a fast I undertook for deliverance from self-loathing a couple of weeks prior. It may be because the Healer determined it was time to deal with the issues that drove that type of memory.

It was one short scene and involved my father in his Greyhound Bus driver’s uniform driving his car. My mother was in the passenger seat. I was in the back seat. I had a brand new pair of shoes, suitable for church or other dress events. I lifted them up so he could glance at them in the rear view mirror. He was not angry that Mom had spent money. He seemed to appreciate them. He said, “They look good. When we get home, we’ll put a good Kiwi shine on them.” I was, maybe eleven. That’s it. That was the whole memory. One short scene. It has flashed through my mind countless times. What triggers this thought? This little scene seems as dull and boring as it is insignificant. Yet, it visited me frequently, and remained an itch I could not reach. That was it. An inconsequential moment in my life that has repeatedly visited my imagination. However, by the prayer and fasting and a recent visit with my daughter, Spring, it unveiled the complete story and meaning.

My growing feet had been demanding new shoes for a while. At my Dad’s suggestion I had cut a slit in the leather top to make room for my big toe in order to, as Dad put it, get another month or so out of the shoes. My mother finally harangued my father into relaxing his grip on some cash to accommodate me. She got use of the vehicle only when it was convenient for Dad. She never knew when he would be home, or for how long. She had to take advantage of the car when it was available so she crammed in shoe shopping with several other chores into that short window of time. She drove him to work one evening, and the next day she picked me up from school, drove to Sears for a new pair of shoes, and then on to where we found Dad in front of the bus station.

She must not have made him wait too long because he was in a good mood. She scooted over to the passenger side while he got behind the steering wheel. Once he was into his second beer I lifted my shoes up so he could see them in the rear view mirror. Immediately, he asked Mom how much they cost. She told him. He shook his head and after a little mental calculation told us he had to drive a busload of Marines to Paris Island to pay for those shoes. Nevertheless, he bragged on them. Told me how good I’d look in them. Told me what a sharp dresser he used to be. He was once, he said, briefly taken into custody in Cincinnati on suspicion of being “Dapper Dan” the sharp dressed cat burglar, famous in that city. The point of pride for him fell not on the suspicion of burglary, of course, but that it affirmed how dapper, how good looking and what a sharp dresser he was. He said he always, “Looked like a million bucks.” So when he said, “We’ll put a good Kiwi shine on them when we get home,” my hopes soared that I would be like my Dad, a sharp dressed man. And, Dad would be my mentor. He cared. He would show me how stuff is done. Unfortunately, I tainted the moment by bugging him. “Why do you call it a Kiwi shine?””

“Because that’s a good shine.”

“How come it’s called Kiwi?”

“Kiwi’s a good shine.”

“So, if someone has a good shine it’s a Kiwi shine?”

“No, son!” I was irritating him. As the second beer can clattered on the road behind us, he opened a third with the church key on his key ring and answered, “If it’s a Kiwi shine, it’s a Kiwi shine. It’s got to be a Kiwi shine to be a Kiwi shine.”

“But, how come it’s called a Kiwi shine?”

“Because, it’s a damn Kiwi shine, son. That’s why. You got a case of the stupid’s? Damn Pat, these kids don’t know shit?” I was feeling the heat prickles of shame and exasperation running up and down my head and neck. I cried easily and often back then and was struggling to maintain my emotional balance. I was also stubborn. I kept asking, “But, why is it called Kiwi?”

My father laughed at my retarded ignorance. “Sheesh, Pat,” he said, “Now he’s gonna cry.” He cut a scornful glance in the rearview mirror and then at my mother.

“All he wants to know, Sam, is why does it have the name Kiwi?” Turning towards me, coming to my rescue she continued, “Kiwi is the brand name . . ..”

And, so she elaborated and satisfied my curiosity. It comforted me in my humiliation. She confirmed what I thought was obvious, that my question had merit. Nevertheless, I still felt like an idiot.

By the time we got home I had recovered. I still craved the special moment with my father. I waited for him to eat the meal my mother had prepared for him. Once he relaxed in front of the TV, I began to bug him. I still believed he would fulfill his promise. There were several rebuffs of “Later, boy. Let me unwind a minute.” He did not say, “No.” I stayed hopeful the promise would not be denied. At last, I came to him with his shoe shine kit and my shoes. I placed them by his chair, careful not to stand between him and the TV. I held up the shoe polish. It had a picture of a wingless bird and in bold letters, KIWI. I’d never noticed that before. I smiled and said in an attempt to get his attention, “Kiwi. A good Kiwi shine.”

He responded, “Hell, son, who ever heard of polishing brand new shoes? Wear them a while and then it’ll be time to polish them.” He dismissed me with a derisive laugh and, “Sheesh!” Thus ends the newly recovered memory.

It was while I was talking to my daughter, Spring, about little blips of memory that seem like some form of mysterious shorthand, when this story unfolded. For many years all I remembered was the three seconds it took him to smile in the rear view mirror and promise a shoe shine. When I commented to her, “. . . but I don’t understand the significance of the thing. Why it keeps coming back to my mind,” then quick as a camera flash, I knew. I saw the whole thing. And, I felt a slow bubble of emotion as I recalled how all my teenage years I never polished a shoe. When I started making my own money and buying my own clothes at 15, I began to buy moccasins or boots that I would treat with Neatsfoot or mink oil. Somehow, I determined polished shoes were not for me. I chose the rugged mountain look, the natural look of unshined leather. I suppressed the memory of the good Kiwi shine and never connected that incident to my long time aversion to shined shoes.

The memory represents a time when I became vulnerable to a spirit of self-loathing. And, my disregard to my appearance became an emblem for the lack of confidence I felt as to my worth. If I was not worth a good Kiwi shine, then I wouldn’t care if my clothes were ironed, mismatched or if I got a regular haircut. I began to take pride in looking disheveled. A few years later, when I began to write poetry, it all sort of fit into an image. It all began with a broken promise, broken heart and a germ of self-loathing. My theory is these short flashes of memory come to me periodically , on a subliminal level, to remind me that I am truly not worthy of good stuff, good friends, kindness, or any of God’s graces. I am sure my subconscious understood the shorthand of such glimpses of memory.

Whenever I had a great conversation and felt I really was able to share my heart, get something off my chest, or explain a complicated procedure at work, I would be inwardly heckled by negative self-talk: “You talked too much. Those people will avoid you next time they see you. Who told you that you were so smart?” I would be tempted to such depression whenever I had a good time. It was almost as if I had an evil angel hanging around and monitoring my happiness level and when it got too high he would growl, “You’re not supposed to feel this good. You know you’re a creep. Quit pretending you are not.”

My father would not have, for the life of him, purposely brought harm into my life. He was acting out the behavior patterns he was raised with. He thought such as that was normal child rearing. He was convinced and very proud that his children had it much better than he did as a child.

When I was in my thirties, my dad and I visited his mother. I was taught to call her, “Mom.” My mother was “Pat,” until I was four and I decided against it and changed her name to “Mother.” At my grandmother’s I witnessed my father bristling under his mother’s incessant bragging on her son-in-law. She had many jobs around the house to do and Johnnie would do them all because Johnnie was so smart. I saw the contrast. So stark. Dad’s sister chose a mate who was brilliant. Dad chose a mate that did not even merit the title Mother. And Dad? He couldn’t even be trusted to hang a picture on a wall.

During that visit I caught a snapshot of his childhood. I saw the virus that drives the spiritual scoliosis of self-loathing. Dad unconsciously passed on what was fed to him. Even though God plans beauty and brilliance for our lives, unspoken beliefs and poor behavior patterns left unchecked put a twist to that image.

I think having that memory unfold as I spoke with Spring was a God appointment. It assures me that no matter what I have gone through in my life, God has been with me through it all.

I may walk through valleys as dark as death but I won’t be afraid. You are with me . . . You make me feel safe . . . Your kindness and love will always be with me each day . . .. Psalms 23, CEV.

We traveled through fire and through floods . . . He listened when I prayed and he is always kind. Psalms 66, CEV.

Our past imbues our present. Sometimes, unearthing pieces of our forgotten lives is part of God’s healing process. I certainly don’t encourage anyone to dwell on the past or to drown oneself in introspection. Instead, concentrate on loving God. Study to pray well and often. Practice acts of kindness and mercy. God is our healer. He certainly wants to restore his image in us. Self-loathing or any other negativity is not part of his plan for us. His purpose for our lives is wholeness, healing, peace.

I have one pair of dress shoes I, now, keep shined. As I was writing this article I decided to pull out my shoe polish to see what brand it is. I never really paid any attention. Sure enough it is Kiwi.


[LT1]

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Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.

CLICK HERE to visit Louis’ Catholic Journeyman Archive

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