Paul Greenberg

I told him that was wrong. Didn't these customers deserve a respectful salutation? Weren't they God's children, too? Teenagers who are always being lectured by their parents (and need to be) love to catch them in some moral contradiction. So we can lecture them for a change. Ah, sweet revenge. And this was my chance. Oh, the satisfactions of being a sanctimonious young prig!

Besides, it was really the old man's fault. Wasn't he the one who wouldn't let me skip a day of Hebrew School? We'd just been studying Pirke Avot, the talmudic treatise on ethics, and one of the sages had asked why we address all men, regardless of their station in life, as Master or Mister -- Rav. The answer: Because there is no one from whom we cannot learn.

That's just the way things are done in these parts, Pa explained. Everybody does it. It's the norm, to use the university president's up-to-date terminology. He was just a shoemaker from the old country trying to fit in. But I wouldn't let up. I had to throw in another talmudic dictum: Where there are no men, thou beest a man.

He got huffy and stalked off, the way people will do when they're angry, mainly at themselves.

I guess I owe a debt to that university president, whatever he did or didn't do to warrant resignation, for bringing me back to circa 1951 and Pa, who was much younger then than I am now. (And a lot more trustworthy.) I wanted to stay there with him, and had to shake myself back to 2011.

Anyone of a certain age who has outlived his parents will know the feeling. I didn't want to say anything to him, or have him say anything to me, but just stand there next to him, wordlessly. Just to be in his presence. And once again see how he wore his overcoat and pulled down his hat on cold days, or watch him play pinochle with his buddies Sunday nights around the dining room table. Or just watch him tie his shoelaces. Just to be next to him again. That's all.


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.