Paul Greenberg

The old man had long ago given up fixing shoes and tried other occupations, but always at the same location, and usually with the same customers. But he never found any other work that gave him as much satisfaction as putting new soles on a pair of old uppers. Or a pair of Cat's Paw heels on shoes that still had a lot of good wear left in them. You could be sure he'd do the job neatly, surely, carefully -- to last.

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He loved the feel and aroma of new leather, the grain in the old. He was seldom as happy as when he could hold a pair of weathered shoes in his hands, turn them over and over, feel the tread, admire the workmanship ... and judge whether they were worth saving.

Labor omnia vincit.

Labor conquers all. The old man had no Latin, but he did have some Hebrew, and would have known that the Hebrew word for labor and worship are the same: avodah. He worked the same way he prayed: with dedication, concentration, intention. It showed. In those two things, work and prayer, he came into his own.

His boys could remember those rare occasions when the old man lost his temper. Once he threw a poorly repaired pair of shoes against a wall in his fury. What a sloppy waste of good leather! What a waste of time and the customer's money! What a pity -- and shame.

In his old age, he was unable to contain his contempt when he would drive past one of those glitzy new shoe stores that sold cheap, shiny imports -- the cardboard kind sure to come apart in the first rain.

The old man took poor workmanship as a personal affront. Labor wasn't a factor of production to him, it was a calling -- and a refuge.

The old man wasn't much on theory, but he understood value received, good will, repeat business and, above all, the importance of trust -- between customer and merchant, worker and boss, lender and borrower. To him, commerce was friendship.

All the talk the old man had heard about labor and capital, first from agitators in the old country, and then as the standard fare of politics in this one, seemed only slogans to him -- not really useful. Not like a good, solid pair of work shoes that would get a sharecropper through a hard winter and the spring plowing.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.