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What are you doing for International Day of Families?

by Tim Kirby

What are you doing for International Day of Families?

It was a day I certainly will never forget, just like many of those unexpected one’s are. Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to visit the sunny state of California. On a balmy summer’s evening as I soaked up the sun outside a chic modern café nestled away from the bustling chaos of downtown, one of those random “golden moments” unscripted itself. As I sipped on my Colombian coffee & mentally ebbed on flowed on the various restaurant choices that awaited us & the evening ahead, a faint, gravelly almost apologetic voice wondered “ do you mind if I sit here”?

As I was casually passing time & waiting for my brother to finish work, I replied “please do sit down”. As the elderly frame reclined slowly into the wooden chair next to me, I couldn’t help but notice the weather beaten face and grizzled hands that told a life-story in themselves. Joe had grown up in rural Tennessee and was the eldest of 8 children. His father had unfortunately died soon after the youngest sibling was born, which meant that Joe became the bread-winner for the family. At 12 years old Joe had to leave the family home in pursuit of work which would provide enough money for the family of 9. The road to employment lead Joe across many state boundaries and all the way to California, where he had arrived 75 years ago! During those years, Joe had spent most of his time working in physical labour and for the past 50 years shining shoes at his street stall. From 7am to 9pm every single day, in the searing heat & ice cold depths of winter, Joe plied his trade. As he reminisced on some stand out memories from those shoe shining days, I asked “what kept you going all those years”?

In that unique gravelly voice he replied “Family. Without my family I would never have survived the challenges which I faced in this city, and I’m so glad they’re with me right here today”. I paused, and tentatively arched my neck to see if there was another family member sitting at a nearby table which I had missed! Suddenly, as I leant to the side I could just see at the corner of my eye, a white fluffy tail curled up in the trolley where Joe proudly stored his shoe polish & possessions. Snugly nestled on a blanket was a small collie dog, fast asleep!

Joe had never returned to Tennessee in the 75 years since he had left it as a 12 year old boy, and never again laid eyes on either his siblings or his mother again. Despite this, he continued to send whatever money he earned back to his family, such was his love for them. This “bond ran deep” he said. As with most families, life events took many twists & turns for Joe, and over the past 40 years his pets were his sole family. Joe had rescued “Lucky” (his current collie dog) from a city pound as a puppy, and since then they had not spent a single day apart. Every day, Lucky would loyally sit & interact with Joe as this 87 year old man dutifully toiled & shone the shoes of the fast paced city inhabitants. Every evening, as darkness descended, they both retired into the night and sought refuge in a dry arch way ,or quiet park under a protective tree. Always away from the blazing sirens & avalanche of people in the booming downtown.

“I tell Lucky how my brothers & sisters would now look like” reflected Joe. “Not a single day has gone by in the past 75 years that I don’t think about them. Me and Lucky chat every night” beamed Joe as he lovingly patted Lucky’s head. As his best friend caringly licked his leathery hands in appreciation, I could see that the “bond ran deep” between this family.

“Thank you for listening” uttered Joe as he shuffled his trolley off into the Californian night, with Lucky by his side. Another day beckoned.

This Wednesday 15th May is International Day of Families. Regardless of your definition of “family”, it is the glue which binds our society together, regardless of where we live. Why not reach out to a family member you have not spoken with in a while, or share some time by listening to somebody whose story you do not know.

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