Today, I needed to get my shoes shined. I usually shine them myself, but I forgot this morning. Luckily, in my building in downtown Indianapolis, there is a shoe shine stand. He’s been there for years and does a great job. When he does shine my shoes, we talk about the weather, sports and politics — you know, that usual banter between men.

When I sat down in the shoe shine chair and put my feet up on the shine supports, I looked down at the mud on my wingtips, and it gave me pause. Great pause. I asked him to hold on for a second while I took a quick snapshot of my left foot with my phone. He simply shrugged off my odd request, rolled back his chair and then got back to work a few seconds later.

The reason I wanted to capture the image of that dirty shoe was not proof that I am a poor caretaker of my Allen Edmonds wingtips. Rather, that mud on my shoe is from a specific time and place. A place where time stands still and marches on at the same time. This place is a little patch of land in Loudon Township, Fayette County, Illinois. More specifically, a country cemetery attached to a little church with only two or three active members. To those of us who know this place, it is simply called Springhill. One word, not two.

Growing up, Springhill was a place I visited on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, showing up with my mom and dad with rolls of paper towels, Windex and armfuls of silk flower arrangements. This was the place where I talked to my grandfather, who died 8 years before my birth, but whose name I bear. It was the place where, over the last 40 years, more and more the people whom I knew and loved took their final journey. It is the place, to where, under a red maple tree, we brought my dear mother back home in 2008.

It’s a place where saints and bigots rest side-by-side. Victims of violence, both external and self-inflicted, spend their eternity here as well. Addicts, alcoholics, teetotalers, the pious and lapsed all come together in the ground and also crowded together under those little tents saying their last goodbyes to their loved ones. It is the place that inspired me to learn about my family history, and accept on its face all the simultaneous honor and disgust that comes with learning about ones roots.

At last count, of the nearly 700 interments at this little postage stamp in the oil patch, I’m related to nearly 85 percent of them. Related either through my mother, father or marriage — shirt-tail relation we call that where I’m from. That’s a lot of stories. A lot of history. A lot of unknown.

I grew up about a half hour from there, went to college, then graduate school, and ran off to the city to start my life. When I return it’s usually for weddings and funerals, sometimes with the latter having more beer available. You see that dirt on my shoes is a loamy metaphor for a lot of things.

Antonin Dvorak was a Czech composer who become enamored with the black spirituals of the 19th century and composed what is commonly known the New World Symphony. One lyrical stanza reads:

Mother’s there ‘spectin’ me,
Father’s waitin’ too;
Lots o’ folk gather’d there,
All the friends I knew,
All the friends I knew.
Home, I’m goin’ home!

Maybe Dvorak was on to something? Maybe not. But after last week, my recent thoughts are returning to that place at Wright’s Corner, where I will take my final ride. Halfway between Saint Elmo and Beecher City, but all the way home for me.

So, the next time you knock the dirt of your boots, or shine up your Hush Puppies, think about that dirt. You might surprise yourself.

(Image source)

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Jeff Lilly
Jeff Lilly is the Director of Governmental Affairs for RCR Technology Corporation, and is responsible for governmental relations, key account management and business development activities for RCR across the United States and Canada. With an extensive background in government technology, public policy and public program analysis, Jeff created a client base consisting of nearly a dozen agencies within the State of Indiana. In addition to his extensive work at the state level, Jeff has represented the interests of over 20 units of local government across Indiana and Illinois. He has also performed detailed program evaluations for the States of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin. In addition to his government experience, Mr. Lilly has also given extensive support to legislative and executive branch advocacy efforts by providing economic impact and fiscal impact analyses to bolster those efforts. Mr. Lilly has presented his findings to numerous legislative, executive and judicial bodies and has impartially worked hand-in-hand with trade associations and advocacy groups to provide quantitative and verifiable data on the impacts of desired changes in legislation or programmatic policy. For nearly five years, Mr. Lilly worked for a large professional services company, where he assisted in building a successful public sector management consulting practice, focusing on state and local government fiscal and programmatic analyses. In addition to these practice areas, Mr. Lilly has extensive experience in economic development, rural affairs and the economic impacts of gaming on local communities. A native of Shelbyville, Illinois, Jeff received his Bachelor of Arts degree in American Government from Millikin University and his Master of Public Affairs in Public Finance from Indiana University – Bloomington. He is a board member of numerous organizations, including the Brain Injury Association of Indiana and the Antelope Club. Jeff lives with his wife and daughter in downtown Indianapolis.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Jeff, take a look at Ernest Gaines’ fine novel A Gathering of Old Men. There’s a key scene, a marvelous one, set in a cemetery much like the one you describe.

  2. A wonderful story. My father-n-law, Karl Julius, is buried at Springhill Cemetary. He passed away a little over a year now.
    I believe Don Miller, a classmate of my husband, is still preaching at the church. Like you said to only a few.
    Thank you!
    Cindy Julius

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