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!