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.


Anonymous 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!

Kevin Ballmer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin Ballmer said...

my grandma used to threaten me that they would sell me to the sheeny when I was a little kid. this was in Toledo Ohio. I never saw anybody named a sheeny but the used to threaten me.

Kevin Ballmer said...

my grandma used to threaten me that they would sell me to the sheeny when I was a little kid. this was in Toledo Ohio. I never saw anybody named a sheeny but the used to threaten me.

Kevin Ballmer said...

my grandma used to threaten me and fleet Ohio about selling me to the Sheeny when I was a little kid

Tommy said...

I grew up 50 miles north of Detroit in the 60's in a small town. We had a junk man and on occasion, my buddies and I would go "junk picking" if we thought we might get some old toys to play with. It was junk - NOT garbage! Garbage got burned! It wasn't until I began working in Detroit that I heard "Sheeny Man" and there was never any racial or religious connotation involved. It was more of an occupation than an insult. Today we call the men that drive around looking for any metal take to the scrap yard "Sheeny Men", not to be confused with "Scrappers", those low-life criminals who steal metal from homes and buildings to redeem at the scrap yards.

Jim Jeffries said...

The "Sheeny Man" came down our tree-lined street in 1950 in Port Huron, Michigan about 50 miles north of Detroit. He was in a horse-drawn cart with a large bell. He'd ring it and call out "SHEENY MAN". I was five years old and mother would give me a cloth bag with knives and rags. The Sheeny Man would sharpen the knives on his grinding wheel and keep the rags. Sometimes mother would bring him pots and pans to pound back into shape. There was never a mention of the man's ethnicity or religion. He was Mr. Fix-it to us.

Joanne Loyd said...

My mother age 88, just informed me of the Sheenyman, she lived in Utica, Michigan, and she believes her father bought an old bike for a quarter from him around 1938. I had never heard the term before, but I am a lover of scrappers as well. What a way to make a living.

Lisa Mac said...

I'm confused the beginning of the story was so beautiful on how yougave without expecting to receive which is what I was taught as a child to this very day. And then in the end you got punched me saying you weren't sure if he was using you for the things and now you think about that with all men? I have never looked at it that way and I have gave my whole life I have never went and said oh it's a girl I better not give it to her or it's a boy giving his giving this is the Christmas season and I was going to spread your story with an inspirational light until the bottom when you questioned if somebody was using you? I would probably cut out the end so people could spread Tidings of joy and happiness and love and giving but the bottom really sunk my heart with your on trusting nature please trust in God and keep on giving without thoughts of getting back

Unknown said...

Lisa Mac. I also loved the Sheeny Man Story. We had a Sheeny Man with a little horse drawn cart. He did not take without giving as the street folks would go out with a shovel and scoop up the poops from his horse or the milkmans horse to use as fertilizer for their gardens. Yes we are to give without expecting to get back as that is a way of showing Gods wonderful love in giving us the very best of what heaven had--his beloved son to pay our debt that we could never pay--for our sins. We all have them.
Unfortunately the writer has observed that some people "use" good hearted people for their own gain. Perhaps she has been "used" in this way and that makes her have those questions. I can understand that. But the only right thing to do is to give any hint of bitterness to Jesus who was abused more than anyone. He understands but asks us to forgive and leave the whole thing in his care.

I also was threatened that I would be sold to the Sheeny Man. But I knew my family loved me and would care for me. It was their form of humour I suppose. Eunice Russell who grew up in Toronto