spacer spacer Ernest William, the Duke

It was on a timely visit
To a public washroom; words I heard,
“Just a dime a shine, mister, dime a shine”.
The voice like an actor absurd
Speaking from the opp'site side one wall,
Through the plaster and lath clearly transferred.

Curiosity made me look
For the vendor suggesting the trade,
But befuddled, I found my search in vain!
Was I the butt of joke one played,
To study what my response would be?
I'll partake no more this clueless charade!

Docility within me claimed
I inquire more about the spook;
Soon to be told by an elderly gent,
I had heard not the voice of kook,
But indeed had been in contact with
The spirit Ernest William, dubbed The Duke.

Young Ernest, the gent did explain,
Once lived in the land of Sunny Brae,
Where he mastered the use of blacksmith tools.
Midst the horses, red heat and hay,
He often dreamt having his own shop,
Projecting plans for grand opening day.

For now, however, he would wait
And when his working hours were done,
He'd dressed the best of fashion attire
Courting Etta Fern, dearest one;
Alas, their wedding was put on hold,
As war replaced the ball peen with a gun.

'Twas overseas Ernest headed,
A skilled blacksmith in midst of Great War;
Fortunately, when the battle ended
He returned to Etta once more.
This time nothing would stop the marriage
Between two soulmates matched as none before.

Thus he opened his smithy shop,
And quickly hired a man or two;
Horses and ponies came in to be shod
By Ernest William; business grew.
His heart welcomed the birth of three sons;
Each two years apart, each made his debut.

Dressed his usual Sunday best,
After work he'd walked the streets of town;
People applauded their home-grown blacksmith
Who could forge iron into a crown,
Yet be gentle to all young and old;
Called “The Duke”, he was becoming renown.

But things changed in world of Ernest,
The stock market collapsed and war again;
Then the motorcar became Transport King.
Mind and body in shockwave strain.
Fewer horses sought the anvil's tapping.
Now the Duke, from liquor he'd not abstain.

Narrating this story to me,
The elder gentleman seemed relieved;
With his thoughts coming back from memory
He portrayed a man still bereaved,
“One mustn't forget, the Duke by far
A good man who to great extent achieved.”

The wrath of an alcoholic,
Which Ernest William quickly became,
Is loud, sustained, and unstable nature.
Loyal Etta and boys felt shame;
With taxes and bills not being paid,
The shop he loved became government claim.

So it appeared Life had altered,
Ernest sought work whenever he could.
The pint bottle his costly claim to fame,
Jobs varied smith to chopping wood,
His reputation slowly tarnished;
Duke lived each day by pain covered falsehood.

Thus Fate made appearance,
So the old gent,
In his own way, said to me;
Ernest William was asked to shoe the young mare
That two other smiths had kindly said no.

Only with adherence
To smithy rules,
In exact way, could it be done.
Ernest William faltered, then chased by the mare;
Fate delivered a swift but telling blow.

The nostrils flared from the quarter,
The eyes with the look of one frightened;
The hoof shot out like a pointed sickle,
The leather straps scarcely tightened.
Duke's flushed cheekbone was now morphing red;
His human brain became much enlightened.

Etta Fern attended the wounds
Until a doctor could do stitches;
Bringing Ernest home, said in voice so mild,
“Love counts, not money or riches;
Just bring it into another's heart
For happiness shines among many niches”.

Ernest was offered, so did take
A place of employ from the mayor,
He started work as the new shoe shine man,
Civil servant, sworn in by prayer;
Now no longer lashed by alcohol,
Duke made shining shoes his public affair.

At the foot of best and lowest
The Duke would give each a kindly word;
He attended Holy church each Sunday
And in his life, his best was spurred.
He gave of time yet little money,
Just love for all so easily conferred.

They viewed affection in his eyes
At the baseball field and hockey rink;
Witnessed his merriment at square dances
As "The Duke" told jokes with a wink;
However, in all the things he did,
Never knew him partake alcohol drink.

And foster child and refugee,
Placed in a plan of major design,
Supported by Ernest, his wife and sons,
Were granted life in family line.
They came to honour in their own way
The blacksmith who voiced the phrase “dime-a-shine”.

The elder gent ended his tale
And departed, leaving me alone.
I pondered at what had been related,
Whether if someone little known
To me, in one way or another,
Loved and helped me be the person I've grown.

Though many decades have since passed,
Some say the Duke's voice still lingers there
Between the rooms where he applied polish,
Spit, and brush to shoes with due care;
To each customer who came his way,
Bestowed blessing by placid silent prayer.

Jaymista 2001