Black Shoe Polish and our Children–an edited repost

Well, it was fun for a bit.

“Don’t let the abundance of God’s gifts cause you to forget the Giver.” Anon

Were our children trying to become Brazilians when we found our son Vernon plastered with black shoe polish? Monica was standing by his side so it is hard to guess what our two children were thinking. As parents we often have no idea what goes on in a child’s mind. You might try looking back to your own childhood and remember some of the strange things you did. So Doris and I have never figured out what Monica and Vernon wanted to do when we found them playing in the black shoe polish.

Next comes the cleanup


Were they really weren’t playing in it? Their idea seemed to be to change Vernon from a little blond-haired two year old into a Brazilian. But it would have been a Brazilian much darker than the average person we’d met there in the little village. Oh yes, there were children just as light skinned as ours and one of those families attended our church. But that is another story that I shall put off till I share it with you over a cup of coffee.

Friends at any age or colour.

Brazilians are proud to have a little European blood and that of course started with the Portuguese immigrants. And they are proud to have mixed in some Indian blood from the indigenous tribes. Add to that the darker colour of the Africans who were brought over as slaves. So the mixture of skin shade is a coffee colour of dark roast with added milk.  We assume our children felt just a bit out of place among the deeper hued children with whom they played.

But it probably was not Vernon’s idea about being black for he was just in the two year age range.  I doubt at that age he had any great philosophical ideas about colour. So it might have been Monica who was almost four that decided to make him black with shoe polish. It seemed a good idea.

Our maid might have stopped the shoe polish from blacking Vernon’s legs and arms. But she might have been working in our apartment while we found our children out in the carport. In any case our little boy mostly was partly8 black. We were amused…perhaps a little bit. Well, it was funny enough for me to go get my camera and take a picture of the two of them.

But there the fun ended for that black shoe polish had to come off of  tender skin. Doris says one scrubbing with soap and water did not do the job. But I don’t think that colour made much difference to our children or those with whom they played. They fit right in.

We were never concerned for Monica’s safety as she disappeared in the morning and sometimes not come back till supper time. When we’d ask here where she’d been she might say, “Playing with so and so at such and such a place.” We had no idea where she had gone but assumed all was well.

The way I see it is that the folks in the village knew what was going on with the strange Canadians. People kept close track of us. I recall another missionary couple, Murdo and Isabel saying that when they left their parrot with neighbours while they’d be away that the parrot would be arriving back at their house about the same time as they arrived home from the bus.

A happier picture this time–no shoe polish.


It was about then when Vernon was developing his vocabulary that he had difficulty pronouncing Monica’s name. He would say it as Mókada. In a year or so he got it right but once in a while for fun I still address our daughter as Mókada. Portuguese is an easier language to pick up than English so our children spoke it well, probably without the foreign accent that we must have had.

Whether it is language, home or country, children seem to adapt and do it so well. Were our children thinking about adapting when Vernon was slathered in black shoe polish? We’ll never know, but it is one little episode in Brazil that our family will not forget. Of course they can’t forget—we keep re-telling the story.

And there is one story we’ve told and retold over the years. It is the story of God’s love shown in Jesus that changes lives in this world and gives hope of Eternal Life. Wow, what a story that is!



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