Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Shinola Coffin

I’m not sure why children always want to have funerals for their pets, but they do, and they are quite serious about it. Most kids are inexperienced with such events, so they go by what they have seen on television or in the movies and make up a somber decorum of their own.

I had an involuntary remembrance of one such funeral of my childhood when I was in basic training in 1959. What brought on the sudden flash of memory was a spilled bottle of polish that we used on the edges of our boot soles to make them shine. (It was impossible to spit polish the sole edges the way we did the boots themselves, so the barracks furnished several bottles of the potent shoe sole polish that we shared). The containers looked like king-sized versions of Shinola liquid shoe polish with which I had been familiar as a civilian. But the contents of the big bottles gave off a much brighter gleam when applied and dried.

The Shinola shoe polish packagers of my youth had a great idea. There was a little bottle-shaped tear-out section of the box the product came in, into which one lodged the container to keep the liquid from spilling. The box provided a secure base against tipping. The big bottles we had in basic training had no such safety device, and, as I was removing the dauber one evening, I spilled about half a bottle on the barracks floor.

It was at that moment that our childhood pet funeral was borne in upon my consciousness, as if the event had happened just days before. I was seven and my brother was 12 at the time. Bush hogs were clearing an area near our home to make a park. (My street was named Parkway Drive, so they had to make a park). After the workers had gone home for the day, my brother and I found a baby rabbit in the stubble, its tiny sides rising and falling with life. I guess the doe rabbit got the rest of the litter out of there before the dangerous humans returned.

Mother said we could keep Uncle Wiggly. My brother named him that on the way back to the house from the soon-to-be park. He doubtless imagined that the little rabbit would grow up to resemble the handsome rabbit on our board game, but that never happened. Mother advised that we should feed it Pet Milk with an eye-dropper. Even though Uncle Wiggly didn’t want any Pet Milk, we forced the issue, until his little sides stopped rising and falling with life.

The Shinola box lined with cotton made a perfect little coffin for our short-lived pet. I sang “You Are My Sunshine” at the funeral under the gum tree and my brother preached. I don’t remember what he said, but, whatever it was made me feel comforted. I briefly had that good feeling at basic training until the drill instructor started yelling at me.
Daniel G. Ford, Ph. D.

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