The Shoeshine Boy And French Fries

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When I was a youngster and lived in a small cotton mill community I got my hair cut at the village barbershop. The barber a man named Earnest was older than dirt and my haircut quality depended on his mood which oftentimes was sour and resulted in gaps and a poor cut. Occasionally daddy would take me into the big town of Hendersonville 10 miles away and let me get my hair cut at the Courthouse Barbershop. This barbershop was directly across from the county courthouse and many of the lawyers and professional businessmen from town got their hair cuts in this barbershop.

As a boy of no more than six or seven years of age I didn’t understand all the talk bu the men in the shop but would look through the National Geographic magazines or some other magazine on the table while I waited my turn. This barbershop also had a shoe shine boy. He was an Afro-American kid about 15 or 16 years old and his stand was to the side of the shop and on an elevated pedestal with one or two steps in front. The polish and brushes were in a neat little box and his rags for shining was on his shoulder.

I remember watching the shoe shineboy as he did his work. First brushing any dirt from the shoe ten applying a thin layer of polish. He then brushed the polish all over the shoes one at a time and the would reach for his shine rag. With hands that were so quick he would proceed to shine the shoes. Popping the rag in cyber motions pausing to see his reflection in the completed job. The whole process took less than five minutes and the shoes looked brand new.

One day as I watched him complete a shine and with no other potential client needing a shine he disappeared out of the barbershop for a few minutes. When he returned he was carrying a Nehi orange soda and eating something from a small brown bag. He  sure seemed to be enjoying what he was eating from that little bag. From the smell I could tell whatever was in that little bag surely must be good as he would smack his lips and occasionally wipe his lips with the white napkin he held in his free hand taking sip of the Nehi orange soda to wash it down.

When dad and I left the barbershop that morning I ask him,”Daddy, what was that shoeshine boy eating. It sure smelled good”? Daddy told me they were French fried potatoes and said he had bought them at the restaurant next door. Now I had eaten fried taters mama fried in her cast iron pan and love them with a little ketchup and even today I  still love fried taters especially when fried in some good sausage grease. I never ate French fries until several years later but that day in the barbershop, the shoeshine boy put a craving on me.

Today, I know French fries are not the most healthy of food with all the extra oils that are used to prepare them in deep fry vats but almost every time I eat out at a fast food restaurant, I will remember that day long ago when I first saw a shoeshine boy eating his fries and enjoying them so much.

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