Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Sheeny Man

Every once in a while an image or a sound creeps into my thoughts from a place far away. The other day, I heard a faint cry. I was outside; I couldn't see anyone and the sound was not repeated. Slowly, though, a scene unfolded in my mind, where the sound echoed again. It was the call of the sheeny man.

I can see him now with his horse and cart. Sometimes a small boy is with him. Dressed in black, they huddle together on the bench of the wagon. Periodically the man mouths, an audible but indiscernible cry.

They are collecting refuse. Junk no one else wants. It's a hard life. Few people threw things out then. This was a time of conservation, reusing what you had or keeping items for a time when they maybe needed. However spare the pickings, the sheeny man does have a few things in his cart - an old mattress and its springs, a worn tire, maybe a rusted pipe or two. These will be taken to the scrap yard and sold. A meagre existence, but an honest one.

Treasures for the Sheeny man

I wonder about his life. Does he have a wife? How many children does he have? Where did he come from and where is he going?

When I left my grandmother's house to live with my parents in a new subdivision, I never saw the sheeny man again. Somewhere along the way, horses where banned from the city and I had to believe that the sheeny man's life changed forever.

We have new sheeny men now. They drive up in trucks and pick up the odds and ends that we leave on the curb. The poorer ones use bicycles or push shopping carts and raid garbage bins for glass bottles and tin cans. It's a sad existence, but it is a kind of self-sufficiency, I suppose.

In my research, I ran across this blog about sheeny men in Detroit. The comments are priceless.

Have a memorable day.


  1. Our sheeny men were Bric-a-brac men...

  2. Both our rag and bone man and the had horse drawn carts. When I was little and I had a fight with my mother I would "runaway with the milkman". I took my little bag with Hanne Dolly, Tortle, my toothbrush and a jam sandwich. By the time he had finished his round it was time to go home for elevenses! And yes, my mother did know where I was - she made the jam sandwich!

  3. The Sheeny man was a very scary person for me growing up in the suburbs of Detroif. He had a mile drawn cart, a kerosene lantern dangling by his side, and a very tough appearance . I was told he stole "bad children" , that were never seen again. He did collect junk or discarded
    no longer needed items, but still most kids were terrified of him.