Saturday, November 17, 2007

Here Comes The Sheeny Man

The first man in my life that was soft spoken and made me feel like I was someone special was the Sheeny Man. I never knew him by any other name. He came down the alley way behind Grandma Strange's house every week. At the time I thought he had to be older than dirt. But at my age everyone was old. I think I was about four years old when the Sheeny Man and I first met.

I would sit on the back porch and wait to hear him coming. Grandma Strange would have ready whatever I could con her out of to give to the Sheeny Man. I didn't realize, even as an adult, that many people do not know what a Sheeny Man was. In case you still don't know, I will tell you. A Sheeny Man was an "older man" with a cart. He walked or rode down all the alley ways looking for whatever people would give him. He would take rags, cans, little pieces of anything. He never turned anything down. Later on I understood WHY he didn't reject anything.

He would start at the beginning of the alley and yell, "Sheeny Man coming. Sheeny Man coming", over and over and over. He was a black man with salt and pepper hair. He had the kindest eyes I have ever seen. He would always wave at me from the beginning of the alley. He had this huge wagon that he pulled behind him or pushed in front of him. It was made of wood. I don't know how he could handle something that heavy. I could always tell if it had been a good day or not by the size of his load. I would always tell him if his mommy would be happy with him or not by the size he was pushing. I guess at that age I didn't think of him having a wife.

We had the same conversation each time. I would look the load over and give him my opinion of the day. He would look over what I had for him. He would say, "Thank you, Miss Gracie and the good Lord thanks you too. You tell your grandma thank you too". He would give me a smile and a tip of his hat and start shouting out "Sheen Man coming. Sheeny Man coming" and move on down the alley.
As I got older we would talk about other things. But he was always on his mission. He couldn't take a lot of time to "jabber babber" as he called it.

I asked him one time why he didn't have a horse or make the front part of the cart into a bike.
He laughed at me and asked me if I knew what money was. I promised him when I grew up I would help him get a horse because when he came down the alley I would have an apple waiting for the horse and one of Grandma Strange's donuts for him. He figured it was going to take too long for me to grow up so he would take the donut next week.

I would do anything I had to do to be at Grandma Strange's house on Sheeny Man day. I made Grandma promise not to tell my wolf parents why I had to be there. If they knew, they would never allow it to happen again.

A few years later when it wasn't possible for me to be there on Sheeny Man day because of school I would go on any day off from school that I could. When Grandma Strange and I begin our rag bag knitting I would sneak some off for the Sheeny Man.

One day when we were knitting and talking, Grandma Strange asked me something she had been wanting to ask for a long time. She told me she was aware that I was sneaking a rag once in awhile to the Sheeny Man and she didn't have problem with that. She went on to tell me that all the times I insisted on meeting the Sheeny Man and taking items to him that I shouldn't have kept the money. She went on to explain to me the value of money and the items did not belong to me. I was in tears when she finished. I then explained to her that I didn't take money from the Sheeny Man for the things I gave him. He and I never talked money. It would have made me proud to collect money for Grandma and Grandpa. We ended up in each other's arms crying the ugly cry together.

We decided that God must have wanted the Sheeny Man to have those things. I assured her he needed the money for a horse or some bike pedals for sure.

I have wondered all these years, did the Sheeny Man love me for myself or what I could give him? Come to think of it, I have wondered that about other men in my life too. Hmmmmm

Tomorrow is Monday and that is wash day at Grandma's house.

6 comments:

My Genealogy Diary said...

I was looking for a definition of "Sheeny Man" when I cam across your blog posting. This is a very endearing story. I also wondered what "wolf parents" were.

Michael Mossman said...

Growing up in Windsor ON-Detroit's border city we too had a sheeny man who came through our alley. It was fun but kid-scary to yell out "here comes the sheeny man" as if he was an underworld or other worldly character. My first recollection of a derogatory term describing a Jew was when I yelled out that the sheeny man was coming and my father admonished me to never use that term again. I wondered if my neighborhood friends knew what I knew or knew what I felt.

lottiestuff3 said...

I grew up in Detroit and also remember the Sheeny Man coming down our alley. I too always wanted to go watch him as he showed up behind our garage. He had a horse to pull his wagon. I was telling a friend my age, from Ohio about the Sheeny Man but she had never heard of such a person.
I did not realize that this was such a localized situation, or was it?
Today we have a truck that shows up in our neighborhood the night before garbage pickup and this person selects things that he might re-use or sell. Guess he might be considered the modern version of the Sheeny Man.

sam49r said...

When ever I don't shave for a couple of days, my girlfriend calls me Sheeny Man. I asked why do you call me that. When she was little living in Inkster her mom would tell her watch for the Sheeny Man. He would come down the street ringing a bell and yelling out Sheeny Man. He would sharpen there knives and scissors. I had to google Sheeny Man, found your post and the Sheeny Man goes on.

Aine said...

My late mother, who grew up in Toronto Ontario during the 30's and early 40's also spoke of the Sheeny Man. She never mentioned his colour or religious tradition. I'm curious what wolf parents are as well.

David said...

i am from Detroit originally and remember the sheeny man too interestingly enuff my moniker is wolfknight so i guess i had wolf parents too!