In the past few weeks, I actually had a chance to get out and “find some peace” behind the lens. With summer ending, and the leaves beginning to change (not to mention racing the daylight hours, do we really need it to be pitch black outside at 5pm?) I revisited a few places and found another one which proved to be quite humbling.
My Mom had mentioned to me recently about a “Shoe Fence” located in Cornell, IL. It was inspired by a similar fence seen in New Zealand by the property owners. I drove out there one Sunday afternoon, found it and saw the shoes, boots, sandals and other footwear hanging on the length of it. It is the “Friendship Shoe Fence” according to the sign which also reads, “You May Take Or Leave Shoes”. Another sign reads, “So Many Shoes, So Little Time”.
Some of the footwear is brand new, some used and worn, but all left for the purpose of helping others in need. While it made for interesting subject matter, I also found it to be quite humbling. I was not sure where the property owners lived, in hopes of interviewing them, so I searched a bit online, and found this information:
The Friendship Shoe Fence
“Near Cornell, Illinois, a long span of fencing runs along a rural road. Unlike most such fences, this one sports a wide array of shoes. Men's, women's, and children's shoes are all tied to the fence with their laces, wedged into the space between the wires by their heels, or laid out on blankets near a gravel lot at one end of the run. The fence is the result of one Gail Donze's desire to help her neighbors out coupled with inspiration from a trip she took to New Zealand to visit a pen pal, where she saw one such fence and was inspired to create her own.”
Here’s some links to more press about The Friendship Shoe Fence:
It proved to me that kindness still indeed exists, and during this time of the year when we routinely look to give thanks, and seek out our own form of gratitude, it seemed appropriate to include some of what I saw here in the photos below.
I also (for your carpal tunnel induced scrolling pleasure) am including some photos of some my other stops along the way.
I was due to blog last week (and I appreciate Bob Gordon for filling in with a wonderful Halloween post) but I asked Marty if I could for this weekend instead. Reason being, today is my Mom’s 84th Birthday.
As I do at various times of the years on significant dates, I will traditionally post photos of “A Father’s Hands”, the series I did a few years ago. It literally “came to be” on one of Marty’s earlier blogs on a Valentine’s Day when Marty asked if he could use a photo he’d seen of my Mom and Dad holding hands. I know we get new readers here all the time, and I have received many messages saying how these photos had touched them in some way. Lasting personal friendships have been made as the direct result of these photos. For those unfamiliar with the history behind them, I will include the story as follows:
My Father was diagnosed with Central Nervous System Lymphoma in December of 2006, and most of the following year was spent going through surgeries for his brain tumors and various forms of Chemo treatments. There were good days and bad, but never once did he complain. He kept his sense of humor intact, as well as his love for others around him. By late December of 2007, various complications caused him to be rushed to the hospital, and that night in late December, I was sitting in the ICU watching my Mom hold his hand, and candidly snapped a photo of them with my cellphone.
The very first photo I took of them holding hands in the hospital.
My Dad and I on my Birthday a week before his passing.
We truly did not think he was going to make it, and I wanted to capture that moment of love between he and my Mom. He pulled through, thanks to the attentive care and decisions made by the Doctors on duty that night. I spent the next night alone with him in the dark talking to him, not knowing if he could hear me, but he indeed heard my life stories. I kept looking at that photo and not knowing what the next days or months would bring, decided to start a photo journal of his hands and those holding them. It helped give me strength during that time as well.
Here is a link to the entire series of photos: "A Father's Hands."
Throughout that following year (2008) he continued to fight the battle, and once again, there were good days and bad days, all without complaint, but during that time we all continued to make memories together. I kept taking photos using only my cellphone as it was with me at all times. During that time, my Dad and Mom taught me so much, and proved to me that true love does indeed exist. His last words to my Mom were, "Goodnight My Dear", the same thing he told her every night for 57 years.
He truly made a difference in my life, with his caring, giving, sense of humor, and putting others before himself always.
Keeping that quick wit and dry sense of humor (which I personally try to keep alive) was with him until the end. During my time alone with him while saying our last goodbyes, I said to him "It's going to be OK." My Dad whispered back, "Convince Me". I was at a loss for words, which is indeed rare. There was nothing I could say, and finally just laughed, he saw that, and chuckled softly as well and squeezed my had a bit tighter.
Sadly, he lost the battle on Saturday, April 4, 2009 at 11:05 am CST, at home where he wanted to be, in his own bed, with my Mom by his side. After his last breath, I looked at my Mom and said "You know there is one more photo to take", she looked at me and said "Absolutely".
That final photo.
We all sat in that room and started sharing stories, almost in a “Big Fish” manner and even shared a few laughs as well. Dad would have wanted it that way. At his funeral, my Mom, who always was one to put a few things in with loved ones to take with them on their journey, included (among other things) a TV remote control, as our own personal joke. She later said, she had not seen a TV commercial in many years, as Dad would always flip through the channels when one came on. That too brought some laughter during that time of sorrow to the crowd that came to pay their respects.
A few days later, my Mom said she had something she was wanting to show me, but had waited to do so. It was a photo of their hands taken on the day of their wedding. Those hands held on to each other for an entire lifetime.
Mom and Dad on their Wedding Day.
Today is for you Mom. Happy Birthday! Thank you for being the Mother you are, the Grandmother you are, for your love, your support and inspiration, for all you have continued to teach me, and for keeping Dad’s laughter and love alive in our hearts. I love you.