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Cline column: Shoeshines with Dad

With summer officially staring us in the face, complete with sunburn, it’s time for me to do some last-minute spring cleaning. Not in my home, although I should clean it as well, but rather in the dark corners and crevices of my brain.

This could be scary.

You know those obscure thoughts which pop into your mind when you’re driving down the road, taking a shower or trying to get to sleep at night? Two of the following are good, one not so good.

Here are the good ones (the roses):

Sunday mornings growing up — My dad worked 15- to 16-hour days running a couple of our family businesses. Six days a week, he operated our dry cleaners/laundry starting at 6 a.m. Around 5 in the afternoon, he scurried home for a quick dinner, then left again to manage one of our two drive-in theaters. He’d get to bed between 11 p.m. and midnight, only to start over the following dawn.

Sunday was the exception. The dry cleaners was closed, so he could sleep a bit later, but he rarely did. He would wake me up no later than 8 a.m. and fix breakfast for the two of us, while my mom slept a bit longer. Then we would dress for Sunday School. Attending Sunday School and “preaching” were not options in his book. He and I would hit the road by 8:45. Our first stop on alternate Sunday mornings was a barber shop up on Statesville’s “Depot Hill.” We weren’t there for a haircut, but for a shoeshine.

I can to this day still smell the aroma of the place. The shop was filled with the smell of fresh shoe polish. It was wonderful. We would sit side by side with our feet up on the footrests while the two men polished and buffed our shoes. I can hear the popping of the rags they used right now. The charge for each shine including tip was a quarter.

Then we headed to a diner in the heart of town. Every Sunday, my dad picked up several dozen homemade doughnuts for his Young Men’s Bible Class. Whatever Bible study his class had revolved around talk of business, doughnuts, hot coffee and cigarettes. I went upstairs for my Sunday Schooling. We had none of their amenities: no doughnuts, no coffee, no cigarettes.

But when the bell signifying the end of the weekly gathering sounded, I knew there would be a doughnut waiting for me downstairs. So I bolted out the door of my class, ran down the steps and into the smoke-filled room. I grabbed the doughnut and stood by the water fountain in the hall until the treat was consumed, then washed it down with H2O.

Then I would find my mom sitting in the “Cline” pew awaiting the sermon of the week. My dad would then join us, if he wasn’t ushering that day.

Sundays after “preaching” — We alternated weeks of eating out and eating at home. Both were very satisfying. Folks generally did not eat out back then as often as they do these days, so it was always a special event.

Our two eateries of choice were on opposite sides of town. There was a great restaurant (they also had tourist cabins as well) out Highway 64 on the road to Mocksville called the Chat-N-Ibble.

My dad was good friends with the owner. Statesville folk still talk about this place, even though it closed probably 45 years ago. I was permitted to drop a dime in the juke box and play one song per visit. And if people today think the Internet is so great, back then I could order up my favorite tune from our private booth. Just flip through the offerings on the box at the end of the table, deposit a coin and listen to the latest hit record by Patti Page, Elvis or The Kingston Trio. Modern technology — 1950s style.

Hamburger steak was usually my entree of choice.

If it wasn’t the Chat-N-Ibble, we’d visit the Carolina Inn, also located on Highway 64 but about as far west one could get without leaving Iredell County. This end of Highway 64 was generally referred to as the Hickory Highway. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was still just a dream, as far as Statesville was concerned.

My father was friends with the owner of this place as well. Actually, our drive-in theater my dad managed was about 2 miles back into town from the Carolina Inn. Hamburger steak was usually my entree of choice at this establishment. Come to think of it, I usually sampled the hamburger steak at any restaurant during those days.

A Sunday at the Carolina Inn I recall most vividly is the one in which our minister and his family entered a few minutes after we had. My mother immediately instructed me to be on my best behavior as to not embarrass the Cline family. I can’t recall, but I hope she got her wish. Imagine the shame if we had to face the entire congregation the following Sunday after I had talked too loudly or broken a bottle of ketchup.

The Sunday-after-church meals at home were always great. It was either roast beef or fried chicken, and Mama Cline was a master at both.

Here is one not so good (the thorn):

After school mischief — Every day after my elementary school day ended, I was expected to ride my bike the six or so blocks to our dry cleaners and spend the afternoon with my father. My mother also worked, so no one was home to watch after little ole me.

This particular day, my friend Wesley asked me to come home with him as the neighborhood guys were going to play baseball in the vacant lot next to the Stimson house. I told him I would have to call my dad and get permission. (You see, I started out doing the right thing.)

So I went to the school office and asked the principal, who was the mother of legendary Charlotte TV/radio personality Ty Boyd, if I could use the telephone. She said yes, but make it quick, she was ready to leave. I dialed our dry cleaners, but the line was busy. When I told her the results, she said she was sorry but had to lock up the office.

What followed could have been a scene taken directly from “Leave It To Beaver.” Eddie Haskell (in this case, Wesley) told me (Theodore Cleaver) to come on home with him and I could call again from his house. I knew this wouldn’t be kosher with my Dad, but I went along with it anyway.

Naturally, when we arrived at his house, we rushed to the ball field, forgetting to make the call.

A short time later, while I was waiting my turn to bat, I spotted the dry cleaners truck coming down the street. The party was over. As I jumped behind a tree to hide, I told everybody to play dumb if my father asked any questions (not one of my better ad libs).

The truck stopped next to the curb, and my Dad yelled out the window, “Anyone seen Mike?”

“Yes sir, Mr. Cline. He’s behind that tree!” from the lips of good friend Jimmy P.

I stepped out from behind the huge pine and heard the words, “I’ll be at home waiting.”

I immediately wrote-off this day of my life.

Before I even parked my bicycle in the garage and entered the house, I had already burst into tears, because I knew my fate once I entered the front door.

My dad’s alter ego, Corporal Punishment, stood in the middle of the room waiting. But before swinging into action, he gave me the speech about his being worried when I didn’t show up, how he had to leave work to look for me, etc. Then came the main event, followed by the usual statement, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about.” I had that line memorized. I’m sure some of you have heard it as well.

Then we headed back to the dry cleaners, where I should have been all along.

I think about my father a lot. He died when I was 12. He was a really good man. He worked over 100 hours a week to provide for his family. He knew virtually everyone in town, and I venture to say that over 95 percent of the people he knew liked him. They elected him to the City Council both times he ran for office.

I’m sure many of you reading this had a father just like him.

And if I am one-third the person he was, I am satisfied.


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