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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"My Tree of Free Spirit and Hope"

Come See The Tree Located at the Corner of Orange and Graham Streets
By: Leon Kelly

Growing up in a small town without very much to do, some of our old (good) homespun habits linger like an echo resounding, and are hard to break. After all theses years, I still love the craft of shining shoes as my dad taught me when I was nine years old. My dad, Charlie (Buy) Davis, was well known here for his shoe shining artistry and he taught me all I needed to know about the shoe shining business. He taught me one golden rule… "Shine the shoes to the customer’s satisfaction… PERIOD!"
As he worked with me, he introduced me to the different types of shoe enhancement techniques and equipment such as the "Shoe Tree." I often used a pair of shoe trees to help shape the shoes as I was shining them. These shoe trees came in assorted shapes and sizes just as do real live trees, like the huge tree in from of my little shop at 2902 Orange Street.
During my military career, I was stationed in many cities and countries throughout the world, and met many new people and learned about their cultures. Actually, the first time I saw a pair of shoes hanging on a wire was in the Army. A soldier was getting ready to leave his unit, and to celebrate he tossed his shoes in the air hoping they would land on the highest branch of the tree. Some others landed on the hot wires overhead.
After I retired and moved back home to Marianna, I still had that yearning to work with my dad in his shoe shining business (just to pass away the time until I could find work). The day came nine months later when I was hired at Dozier School for Boys. This was not a mainstream, regular school; it was a school for boys who had violated the law and were serving time for their crimes. They came from all over the United States.
Dozier was one of my main sources for training some of the boys in the process of shining shoes and being able to use that skill when they made it out of the system. Later, I was able to put some of their discarded shoes on my tree at the shop- hoping that, someday at least, one of them would come back and share their success story with me. I had collected a large number of discarded shoes, so I offered them to people in the Community to no avail.
Since I couldn’t give the shoes away, I decided to nail them on the old tree that guards the front of my store. Needless to say, someone started to take them off the tree. To replace them, I started asking the Dozier House Parents for the old shoes from their Cottages.
Four afternoons a week, I tutor at The West End Community Association Tutorial Program. As a project, I assisted the students in decorating some of the old sneakers which were then also added to the tree. The tree has a variety of baby shoes, pumps, mules, oxfords, men’s, women’s, sneakers/ Keds, plastic, leather, fabric and straw to name a few. I invite new entries at anytime.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think that a "shoe tree" would later become a real live tree that someone would throw shoes onto. Now my little tree is evolving into a neighborhood masterpiece.
I started to delve into researching "shoe tree" sources and bam! There it was in black and white…the Shoe Tree had a long history in America and abroad. Sometimes the trees signify things good, new, or sad.
A couple of good general online sources on shoe trees (shoe tossing) are: and
They give fascinating accounts of the "real live shoe trees."
The Buy Shoe Shop "Shoe Tree" reaches approximately 20 to 30 feet high and is loaded with multigenerational shoe artistry. According to my sources, the only other real live Shoe Tree in Florida is located in the Ocala National Forest. I guess I’ll have to send a picture of our little tree to the Shoe Tree Registry.
Next week, I’ll have my 52nd birthday and still loving it! Oh, personally, I do use shoe trees for all my dress shoes while giving them the "shine of their life".
Leon Kelly can be reached at 209-4310.

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