Last fall, Carl McBee and I worked together to create a calendar. When we first started chatting about this, I remember I specifically said, “I have always wanted to do this, but I am only going to do it if it’s fun! I don’t want a bunch of animals in flowers. And, I don’t want it to be sad; I want it to give people a chuckle.” My friend Carl gets me. He said, “Yep, that’s why I called you.”
So, we kicked off our first partnership for the community we both love so much – Chillicothe. The ideas got a little crazy (insert crazy 18th century fake wig, police sharing donuts with German Shepherds, & our Mayor playing on the steps with Madonna here), but in the end, I think it has become a perfect keepsake for anyone who loves Chillicothe or Leslie. I say Leslie because we all know Leslie is the epitome of what is the Chillicothe Animal Shelter, named Forest O. Triplett Memorial Shelter thanks to the Triplett family’s generosity.
I remember waiting on Leslie at Washington Street Food and Drink during my summer break from college. I would always spot her muddy work boots under the booth from afar and know exactly what beautiful tan, weathered skin and amazing blue eyes would look up at me when I said hello! I often wished I could plop right down and let her tell me her animal stories in that dreamy accent. But, there was no time for that – we were working. Me, in that moment. Her, constantly. And, even though I knew this way back then, it wasn’t until last fall that I fully realized the capacity of her work.
Yes, she is a hard worker – everyone knows this. But, I don’t think she does. This is not her career; this is her life. I truly believe that she would not know how to breathe without the shelter and her furry friends. Watching her “work,” I observed a passion that is unparalleled by most.
I don’t believe she pursued this; it pursued her, I thought as I watched her move quickly from cage to cage, making sure to acknowledge everyone, especially her biggest fans, which were well, all of them. She moved with grace and determination and grit and passion and kindness. Honestly, it was like watching a beautiful love story unfold in front of my eyes.
Leslie asked me if I wanted to see one of her favorites. . . .she pulled out a big, round, furry little guy. . . his tail was a plumply distorted, he was more then a little bit cross-eyed. He looked up at me with a face only a mother could love. That, she did. All with a big hug and a kiss, telling me in that most delightful accent, “We have to get him healthy, Love, he’s what you would call a little obese.” She then put him back in his temporary home and moving swiftly back to her desk, turning and twisting carefully through a tiny space that only she would probably fit, then around a tight corner and through another smaller tiny space just in time to grab the phone, without missing a beat. The kitties are housed in a home directly in the middle of her office, taking up all of the walking space. An office that is already housing floor-to-ceiling animals on every single wall except her desk wall. An office that is already small. An office that is adorned with beautiful canvases of Leslie herself hanging out with birds. Seriously, hanging out with birds. If there were to be anyone in the world that could “hang with birds,” it would be this woman. This beautiful, caring soul.
I awaited her phone call while I watched the kitties. They didn’t watch me; their eyes were intently watching their “mama” Leslie. She hangs up the phone and gives the kitties some attention. While she plays with one, the other looks on, waiting. I was in awe. To be THIS good at something, to love something SO much, to know EXACTLY how you will spend your life. This was the secret of life. . . to co-exist in it, with it, for it. I’m having a moment. Possibly life-changing.
“Do you think there is any possibility that we can do this tomorrow?” Leslie asks. I snap back to reality, I am about to photograph her for the calendar. I wanted to capture her in her own environment, but I’m really not honestly sure how to truly capture how it really looks. I am a good photojournalist, but how do I show you how that moment felt? For me? I question my career. I answer her.
“Sure, we can make that happen!”
“Great, because I really need to get a haircut!”
This makes me smile a little. Not only does her hair already look adorable, but anyone that knows her knows that super short & chic is how it always is. I am not sure what she is going to cut, but we agree on a new time. Anything to make my new hero happy.
The next day I returned. While I still don’t think any of the photographs can touch who she is and what she does, I do love that you can see the love.
The year is still fresh. You still have time to start your New Years Resolutions. It’s ok to put your calendar up in March. Mine is still in the box, I will maybe hang it up tomorrow. . . And maybe tomorrow, if this story has touched you in any way, you will consider purchasing one of the last remaining calendars? Carl and I would love to tell Leslie this was a sellout. And, if you are reading this story, you can get yours at Hy-Vee right now for ONLY $10, which I think is fair, considering it IS March. 🙂
And, to those of you that have been already enjoying your calendar for the last couple months, supporting this project at full price, we say simply say THANK YOU. And, to the amazing businesses that generously donated, we simply say THANK YOU. And, to the models and the fur models and their families who let me make you do silly things, we simply say THANK YOU. We simply could NOT have done this without ANY of you!!!