The Day My Grandfather Took Off His Patent Leather Pumps, Part Two

by Jim


My grandfather, still in his full formal attire above his ankles, leaned against the wall and lifted his bare feet one at a time as the clean white soles and toes were carefully coated with enough greasepaint to make the dust stick. Mr. Razin grasped each ankle from behind and lifted his foot. Many years later grandfather told me he felt like a horse being shod!


He sighed again and walked into the dusty back room. There was no sharp, smart click now when he walked - just the noiseless tread of his bare feet.

He was then stripped of the rest of his beautiful impeccably tailored clothes: the white tie, cufflinks, vest, shirt, trousers and tailcoat were all taken away and replaced by the vagrant's ludicrous outfit.

After an argument, Mr. Razin even forced him to surrender his wristwatch, his keys and his leather wallet; his business school ring was also taken off his hand. Mr. Razin insisted that he 'become' the character he was playing. That was grandfather’s last resistance. As he handed over his wallet and his watch, it was clear that he had surrendered and Mr. Razin had won.

Looking back I think Mr. Razin actually relished the process of transforming this 'capitalist banker' into his opposite. When he appeared before Mr. Razin dressed as a derelict, he was still greeted with a reprimand.

"You're much too clean. And that hair!" he pointed at Grandfather's head of thick silver-grey hair with the usual razor sharp part. "Maybe we should shave your head! That might do it".

Grandfather opened his eyes wide and was about to speak when Mr. Razin shook his head and said: "No, we will rub grease into your hair!"

So my grandfather's well-groomed head was smeared with grease and his hair stuck up wildly. A fake beard was added to complete the picture.

Then with some greasepaint, his clean-shaven face and manicured hands matched the soles of his hitherto spotless feet: they were now the face, hands and feet of a derelict. He was even given the hint of stubble. But all the make-up in the world could not touch my grandfather's inherent dignity and character.

He was given his few lines to read off a card and placed on the stage next to a garbage can filled with old clothes, with his dirty bare feet facing the audience. The theatre filled with people. The play began and grandfather played his part perfectly. Rumors that it was 'the' Mr. Wellington, investment banker, playing the tramp circulated through the theatre. Soon everyone must have known.

My role was over after the first half hour and I wandered into the costume area. There were my grandfather's clothes: the outfit neatly hung up, the formal shoes on a bench. In one shoe I found his wallet, wristwatch, shirt studs, keys and cuff links. In the other, his socks were neatly folded next to his white tie and his ring. His outer identity had been left behind here while the man himself was on the stage. He had done it for me, and it was the man himself who mattered. That was my grandfather.

I still remember that day and always will.

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