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Touched by a Story About Shoes

This journey to create a Remembering Richland exhibit at our little rural museum started almost 2 years ago. We kind of stumbled into it. We were just trying to digitally record stories of some of our dear senior citizens who remember Richland firsthand. They have some of the most interesting stories to tell about the people, the activities, school life, church, shops and shenanigans. They remember who lived where, who married who, who should have married who and how everyone was mostly related either by blood or by marriage or by friendships.

Richland hasn't been a town since the 1960s. It was 52 years ago when Van Nice Hardware was the last business to close. Soon after, sticks of dynamite blasted down buildings and bulldozers moved in to level everything.

The town might be gone but the stories get to live on. What we got to record has been fascinating and quite frankly, priceless. What I learned from the interviews is that I loved this town more than I knew I did.

While editing, printing and building exhibit pieces, one simple story about the local shoe repair shop just moved me beyond words. It's no secret that I love shoes, but to get emotional over someone sharing a memory about a shoe shop?

Marian Barrett Vassar's Grandpa Bill Barrett ran the shoe repair shop in Richland. I was never in his shop. I wasn't born before he died. But what I do know is I have a kindred spirit with his granddaughter when she described her grandpa's shop.

She wrote, "the smell in that small shop was a mixture of leather, oil and polish. I was proud that my grandfather was able to do so many things so well."

My heart skipped a beat when I typed that passage. I could have written the same words about the shoe repair shop in Overbrook. You see, my Grandpa Rice owned that one. When we stopped in to visit or have shoes repaired, that distinct smell of leather, oil and polish defined my grandpa's shop as soon as the door opened. I can sense it just by thinking about it.

Marian went on to say, "he had a couple of sewing machines that were run by a foot treadle. Those machines could sew through the thickest of leather...Grandpa would put a handful of tacks into his mouth, he would, with one swift motion, pound the nail into the exact spot intended. The row of tacks looked as though their placement had been done by machine. His hands were rough and always stained by polish."

Oh my goodness Marian. Your memories have awakened mine. You made me teary eyed as I pictured my Grandpa using the same tools, the same tacks, the same swift pounding motions.

It was at this very moment that I knew I should be writing about my childhood memories before I don't remember any of them.

I hope you will visit the Remembering Richland exhibit which is filled with history, photos, stories and collections that might trigger a favorite story or memory for you.

You are cordially invited to visit the museum to savor our tribute to Richland. The museum will be open to the public this summer on Saturdays beginning May 1 - October 30; hours 1 - 5PM. Or by appointment on other days by calling 785-783-4420. Please come reminisce with us and be touched by a story that means something to you.

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