His Shoes

I never knew much about my dad. He just didn't talk about his early life very much. Mallie Frank Harrell, Jr. was born in Pavo, GA on June 28, 1918. Shortly after his young childhood, his father moved the family to Moultrie, GA where he lived until he graduated from high school and left Moultrie to work with the Birdsey Flower company. He moved to Tifton, GA where he met my mother, Martha Raye Golden and they were married on December 1, 1940.

My father was an even tempered man who never meddled in anyone's business. He was not a judgmental person and took everyone for who and what they were. Frank Harrell was imminently honest. When he came back from the South Pacific where he served in the Navy during the WWII, he went to work for a man who started a furniture store. My father named the store Fairway Furniture Company. The name, Fairway, spoke of his attitude toward the customers that patronized that small furniture store. Because of him, it didn't remain small long and he became known as the best furniture dealer in Tifton, GA. He was always doing something for someone else without people knowing about it. He would buy Christmas for a family having difficult times even though he didn't really make enough to do so. But, the family only learned about this after his death when people would come and tell us about his generosity. He just quietly did what he did and never let anyone know. He didn't want the praise people usually attach to such deeds.

My dad was an enigma to me. His life consisted of simply living life and taking care of business. He got up early, went to the furniture store, handled the business of the day, came home and ate supper, sat in the living room smoking cigarettes and watching television until it was bed time. The next day was a carbon copy. Get us, go to work, take care of business, come home, watch television, go to bed....ect. That's basically the way people conducted life back in the forties and fifties. The one thing we did together after I turned fourteen was dove hunt. He was an excellent shot who taught me how to do it also. I slowly improved until I reached the point that I could out shoot him and when that happened, he stopped dove hunting. Couldn't take it when I beat him in the field. But, he was a hard worker who had a growing family and simply didn't have time or money to do much else. He was simply a good man. Loyal, trustworthy and honest to the core. Life went on and I grew up and got married. At age twenty six, I finally found out that I must have a college degree in order to achieve anything much in the world and so I entered Abraham Baldwin College. It was in my second year at college (by this time Carolyn and I had a six year old daughter) when my father suddenly died.

We all attended Northside Baptist Church in Tifton where my dad was a deacon and Sunday School teacher. He never missed. One Sunday, January 11, 1970, Carolyn and I were sitting in church listening to the sermon when I heard the phone in the church foyer ring. In about a minute one of the ushers came and told me that my mother wanted me on the phone. Of course, I couldn't imagine why she would be calling but I quickly found out. "Bill, you better come to the house, I came home and found your daddy dead on the bed." I rushed from the church to his house and sure enough, he had passed away from a heart attack as he was taking a nap lying across the bed. He had not felt good that morning and he told mother that he was not going to church. He felt that if he could take a nap he would feel better when he woke up. Problem was that he never woke up.

The usual things followed is swift succession over the next three days and we had his funeral on January 14, 1970. It seemed surreal. As the oldest sibling it fell to me to make most of the arrangements with mother's approval of course. I had seen others deal with death, but it is suppose to happen to them, not to you!

About three weeks later my mother called me one day and asked me to come by her house. We sat in the kitchen and talked about things in general. Then she said: "Bill, I want you to go back there and clean out your father's closet. I have a missionary in South America we are going to send his things to. The Pastor has researched it and he knows where to send them." I was stunned. I didn't want to do this thing. I didn't think I could do it. It seemed so final. But, I told her that I would come back the next morning and tend to the task which, even then, made tears flow when I thought about what faced me. How could I do such a thing? I didn't know, but someone had to do it. The next morning I went to my mother's home, drank a cup of coffee and then set myself to the task I was so terribly dreading. I knew the emotional roller coaster it would put me through.

As I opened my father's closet door, I was greeted with his smell. Everyone has a distinct smell about them and he was no different. There he was, permeating the atmosphere as if he had just walked out of the room. I turned on the light and began to look around. There were his sport coats which he wore to work every day. His ties which I so vividly remembered him wearing. Over in one corner were his hunting boots along with a shotgun standing in the corner all tucked away behind some other clothes. I had brought some packing boxes with me so I began to fold up his shirts and pants to be sent to South America. It was the last time I would ever see those shirts, sport coats and pants as they all went into the boxes bound for another country to be used by someone who needed them.

As I began to finish, the last thing I was going to pack up were his shoes. They took me back to a day when I was ten or eleven years old. My father was a hard working man. He managed a furniture store as previously stated and had to stand on his feet most of the day. Plus, there was the moving of furniture and the delivery of pieces that were sold. He stayed on his feet a lot. He always wore a good heavy dress shoe that was made by Florsheim. They were called the Florsheim Imperials. Expensive shoe for the time but almost impossible to wear out and they also gave a good foundation for standing on one's feet a lot.

We lived in a little house on East 16th Street in Tifton a developing section of town which was on a street still unpaved. The little house was small. It had about 1000 square feet in it and it consisted of two bedrooms, a bath, a small dining room and a very small kitchen. Right in the middle of the house was a hallway that housed a kerosene heater which was the sole source of heat except for the oven on the stove which mother would keep open on cold mornings while serving us breakfast before school.

Daddy and mother would always take a Sunday afternoon nap. We had no air conditioning and the little master bedroom was always hot and steamy like South Georgia is in the Summer time. We would be outside playing but sometimes daddy would call me inside and ask me to rub his feet as they ached him from all the standing and working he did each day. That was a job I didn't like but he never failed to ask me to rub his feet on Sunday while he rested. His feet like everyone else's would develop an odor especially in the hot Summer time. I didn't like that odor getting on my hands and I would hold my fingers extended out away from me and go wash my hands the moment I finished my undesirable task. I always thought...PPEEEWWW!!....that smells to high heaven. I couldn't stand that distinct odor!

So, there I was; standing in my father's closet and I happened to look down. Through my tears, I saw his shoes. Those Brown Florsheim Imperials with the heavy soles and heels. I remembered how they sounded walking across the showroom floor in the furniture store. I thought to myself how much I would like to just have a few minutes with him to talk to him again. If I could just have a little something. Just anything to bring him back just a little but that could never be. Suddenly I remembered how he used to want me to rub his feet and the smell that permeated my hands after my job was done. From somewhere the thought came to me: I bet you can still smell his feet. There are his shoes. See if you can smell his feet. In an instant I had one of his shoes in my hands. I looked at it for a moment and then I thrust my nose as far into that shoe as I could. And, sure enough. I could smell those feet!! That odor which was so repugnant in an earlier day was transformed into the most wonderful fragrance I had ever smelled in my life. That was my dad's feet I was still able to smell! I remembered it from long ago. It was wonderful. He seemed to be there in that closet with me and I lingered there with my nose repeatedly going into that shoe and tears flowing down my cheeks. But that couldn't last. I knew that I had to pack those shoes and send them away. Someone needed them but more than that, I knew that if I kept them I would be coming back again and again to experience his closeness. I knew that I would never get closure on his death if I had them around. He was gone and I had to let him go so I took each pair of his shoes and carefully placed them in a box for shipping.

In a few days those shoes and clothes were in South America. I often wondered just who it was that got his shoes and I thought about it many times. Someone, somewhere was wearing my dad's shoes. He would never know the story behind packing them and sending them away. And he would never know what a great man they had belonged to. Even today, usually at Father's Day, I think of that experience in his closet. I have preached Father's Day sermons and closed them with this story. I tell the young people that they will one day come to the point I reached. They may not like dad today with all his rules and common sense, but a day will come when the smell of His Feet would be a wonderful treat and they would be glad to smell His Shoes.>

William F. Harrell

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