FOR CLYDE GIPSON, LIFE WAS AN OPEN BOOK.

THE HUMAN RACE

A SHOESHINE MAN WITH WORDS THAT SPARKLE

      As if controlled by a heavenly spigot, the rains abruptly ceased and the dense cloud cover cracked, allowing a stream of sunlight to filter across the asphalt where Clidell Gipson was standing beside his shoeshine stand.  

     Nothing supernatural. It happens all the time. Even in Gardena, California. It was a lousy afternoon until Clide, 60, a black man with a goatee, wearing a cap, Levis, a blue shirt and sweater, opened his mouth. The words flowed easily. His essay was hope. He was a beam of sunshine standing on the asphalt beside a carwash in a pair of unshined shoes.   The sixth eldest in a family of 22 brothers and sisters, he was born and raised on a cotton farm just outside Shreveport, Louisiana. At the age of seven, he began shining shoes with his brother, Willy. He had no formal education. But when he turned on his spigot, a torrent of love and street wisdom flowed out — almost like poetry.

     When I interviewed Clide a number of years ago, lived in a small apartment in Watts, had 17 grown children and 29 grandchildren. Ella, his wife and the mother of his entire brood, was dead.

     “My daddy used to tell us, ‘If you learn a business, you can live anywhere, stay honest and you don’t have to steal from nobody… Then, you can go to bed with your clothes off, not with your clothes on.’

     “First thing I teach my kids is… get a good education. Some of them have. Second thing: Be honest! One of my boys was killed a couple of years ago. Gang killing. I love them all. Since they all belong to me, I got no choice!

     “If I had it to do over again, I’d be a machinist. Yeah. You can’t make enough shining shoes for 65 cents a pair. I had to have two jobs to support my kids. I ran the machines in a laundry.”      Especially in Louisiana, Clide has seen his share of racial prejudice. “I don’t go for discrimination. Not at all. Life shouldn’t be troubled by prejudice. We got other problems…” He laughed.

     “I don’t care if you’re white, pink, yellow, green… We all was put here together and we should care about one another. That’s what’s wrong with the world today. We’re fighting amongst ourselves. I think we all need each other — to a certain extent.     

     “Why should I teach my kids to hate — to be prejudice? That’s no good. You carry hate around, it gets heavy after a while. Then you do something real bad. Maybe kill somebody. Bang! Since we’re here for such a short time, it don’t make sense.”

     For several years, Clide, had been fighting bone cancer. “Sometimes my legs cramp so bad, they won’t let me get up. I’ve gone through some tough times… No use complaining.

     “You never get ‘the religion’ until you start hurtin’,” he shrugged. “Soon as you quit hurtin’, then you stop talking to Jesus. That happens!

     “Whether I’m hurtin’ or not, I thank the Lord every day. I don’t go to church as often as I should. But I believe in God.

     “‘Course, I still can’t figure where I’m going… Up there!” he points to the sky. “Or down there!” he points to the asphalt. I pay no mind to dyin’.  

     “The President dies. Movie stars die. If you’re poor, you’re gonna die. If you’re rich, your gonna die. I don’t begrudge a rich person for what he has. If he treats me like a man and I treat him like a man, that’s fine! When our time comes, we’re gone. All the money in the world don’t buy you extra time.”

     Clide has accomplished some “goals” in his lifetime that he feels are of consequence. “Raisin’ a family, caring for people — those are important! Can’t think of anything more important in this short life than doing for your fellow man.

     “I’ve gone to the end of my road; did what I had to do. Had kids. Did the best I could raisin’ them. Had some good times and a whole lot of struggles.  

     “Sometimes you sit up nights wondering how you’re going to support them; you worry about them. Just trying to be a good father — that’s more important than shining shoes.

     “There was plenty of times I could have taken a strap to myself.” he said laughing. “I’ve made a bunch of mistakes. Some was funny; some I don’t even want to talk about.

       “When I was a kid, I didn’t get no spankings. But I got a lot of whippings. I’ve spanked my kids — every one of them. You spank them because you care for them, not because you want to hurt them.”

     With 17 children, how could you spank all of them?

     “Easy… One at a time!” he roared.

     Shining shoes, says Clide, “ain’t that important in the scheme of things. You’ve got to love it to do it. Funny thing about shoeshining. A shoeshine person, he don’t never shine his own shoes. I don’t know why. I used to come home and Ella would go, ‘You go out and get those shoes shined!’ It’s just like a mechanic, I guess. He’ll fix everybody else’s car but his own!”

     Clidell Gipson — a burst of sunlight on an asphalt parking lot.

                        — Boots LeBaron —

(Clyde Gipson was an eloquent man who preached

his view of life while shining shoes at a car wash)

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