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.