Paul Greenberg

Dear Voice from 1952,

It was wholly a pleasure and much more to get your letter recalling an incident in that other country known as the past.

After reading a Labor Day column about my father, who by the time you encountered him was no longer a shoemaker but selling furniture out of the same little shop in Shreveport, La., you related your own story about him.

I've now read it over and over again, and I can picture him every time. You can imagine how your remembrance of him makes a son feel after all these years. Your letter is far too satisfying for me to shorten it in any way:

Sept. 3, 2012

Dear Mr. Greenberg,

I enjoyed your article about your father and I am almost certain that I purchased my bedroom furniture from him. (I still use it.) It was fall 1952 and I was in my ninth month of pregnancy. My husband and I were moving from a furnished apartment in Leesville (he had just been discharged from the Army) to an unfurnished apartment in Shreveport.

In making arrangements for the delivery of the furniture, your father discovered that I had ridden the trolley to his Texas Avenue store. He sent me home with my furniture in his delivery truck with his black driver, assuring me that he was a good person and I would be perfectly safe. I have never forgotten his kindness....

That sounds just like him, all right. And just like Henry Johnson, driver, handyman, confidant, family retainer and all-around mentor to this teenage boy who, believe me, needed mentoring. Henry taught me how to deliver furniture and connect the occasional gas stove, how to tell good credit risks from bad, and even how to ask for directions. (Always get out of the truck, exchange a few words about the weather or the crops, and then ask. Never -- Never! -- just roll down the window and shout.)

Let's just say Henry taught me the lay of the land in these Southern latitudes and maybe in this world. By 1952, he would have been working for my father for 20 years, and would go on working for him for another 30. Although it wasn't always easy to tell who was working for whom.

Your brief letter brought all that back, and with it the old sense of pride and security I always felt in Pa's presence. I hadn't dwelt on that in years. So do we pass by the treasures on our shelves every day, not pausing, occupied by trivia as truths gather dust. Then a letter like yours arrives.


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.