The moments with our parents, and their siblings, become even more important the older we get. It’s not so much the wisdom they impart, or the stories they share, it’s the time we get to spend together knowing the ticks of the clock will never slow. At some point, we pray for a minute more.
I drank wine with my dad and uncle over the weekend and shared a great story.
My dad and his brothers shined shoes at Henry’s, my grandfather’s shop. I want to say they pocketed a nickel for each job, but truth is they got so much more. They spent time with their brothers, with Nono, and they also learned how to get their hands dirty.
“We shined our classmates’ shoes while they were on their way to the dance,” my Uncle said. His lip pinched against his teeth and tethered between fondness and jealousy. We filled our glasses with a beautiful Malbec.
My Uncle had a shoe-shine customer at Henry’s that always promised he’d be his first patient when he became a Doctor. Well when my Uncle returned to the small town, after university, war, and medical school, he opened his first medical office right around the corner from Henry’s. The family beamed and the local paper ran a story on the family’s success (despite the fact they were Italian). And guess who his first patient was? Of course, it was the man with the big promise and the shiny shoes.
After his big day, my Uncle stopped by Henry’s to visit Nono, who was alone in the store. Nono congratulated my Uncle and started to roll up his sleeves. A customer waited for a shoe shine.
“You wouldn’t believe it, but there in the chair sat his first patient, laced up and ready for a shine,” said my Uncle. Any trace of jealousy related to the dancing classmates was totally replaced by unabashed pride.
I can tell you, without hesitation, that my Uncle never let Nono dig his paw into the polish. On his proudest day – his first day as a Doctor – my Uncle bent down and went to work. Without a second thought, he shined his patient’s shoes.
To me, it wasn’t entirely out of respect for Nono. It’s just that he wasn’t above getting his hands dirty, and never would be, no matter how much success he found. And he found success, all of them did – all of them became doctors or lawyers who were never afraid to use a plunger in their own office.
I hope this story stays with me, because hard work is at times not the easiest answer and I think all of us can use a little reminder that getting our hands dirty is not only okay but important.
But more than anything, it was those few hours together with my Dad, Uncle, and our friend Malbec, that I will hold onto, with my fiercest grip, as we all walk towards the ticks of the clock.