My father 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 childhood, his father moved the family to Moultrie where he lived until he graduated from high school and left Moultrie to work with the Birdsey Flower company. He moved to Tifton, where he met my mother, Martha Raye Golden and they were married on December 1, 1940.
My father was an even tempered man and imminently honest. When he came back from the South Pacific where he served in the Navy during WWII he went to work in a furniture store. My father named the store Fairway Furniture Company. The name, Fairway, spoke of his attitude toward the customers that patronized the small store. Because of him, it didn’t remain small long and he became known as the best furniture dealer in Tifton. He was always doing something for someone else without people knowing about it. He would buy Christmas gifts for families having difficult times even though he didn’t really make enough to do so. He just quietly did what he did and never let anyone know. He didn’t want the praise people usually attach to such deeds.
His life consisted of simply living 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, and sat in the living room watching television until it was bed time. That’s basically the way people conducted life back in the forties and fifties. The one thing we did together after I turned 14 was dove hunt. He was an excellent shot and taught me how to do it also. I slowly improved until I reached the point that I could outshoot 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.
At age 26, as a married man, I finally found out that I needed 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.
He was simply a good man. Loyal, trustworthy, and honest to the core.
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.
I rushed to his house and discovered that he had passed away from a heart attack as he was taking a nap lying across the bed. He had not felt well 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, but he never woke up.
We had his funeral on January 14, 1970. About three weeks later my mother called me one day and asked me to come by her house. She said, “Bill, I want you to go back there and clean out your father’s closet. I have a missionary in South America to whom we are going to send his things.” I told her I would come back the next morning and tend to the task, which, even then, made tears flow. 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.
As I opened my father’s closet door, I was greeted with his smell. His smell 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, and his hunting boots as well as his shotgun standing in the corner.
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 finished, I packed up his shoes. They took me back to a day when I was ten or eleven years old. My father was a hard working man and had to stand on his feet most of the day. He always wore a good heavy dress shoe that was made by Florsheim. They were called the Florsheim Imperials.
It was the last time I would ever see those shirts, sport coats, and pants as they all went into the boxes …
We had no air conditioning and the little master bedroom where we lived was always hot and steamy in the summertime. On Sunday afternoon we would be outside playing, but sometimes daddy would call me inside and ask me to rub his feet as they ached from all the standing and working he did each day.
That was a job I didn’t like because his feet developed an odor, especially in the hot summer. I didn’t like that odor getting on my hands and I would go wash my hands the moment I finished that undesirable task.
So, there I was; standing in my father’s closet and looking down at 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, “How much I would like to have a few minutes with him to talk to him again. If I could just have something 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 on my hands after my job was done. I wondered, “I bet I can still smell his feet. There are his shoes.”
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 previous years was transformed into the most wonderful fragrance I had ever smelled in my life. 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 I knew that I had to pack those shoes and send them away. Someone else needed them. 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 provide wonderful memories.