Man can only go so long without a new
pair of boots. He can patch the soles, replace the heels, put cardboard
in the insteps, but sooner or later he needs something that keeps the mud
out and the toes in. So an honoured profession is that of boot-maker. And
not too many little towns didn't have one resident whose life purpose was
the care of the soles of his fellow men.
And naturally, Selbyville had a bootmaker.
He was an unusual man for that time and part of the world, in that he spoke
with an accent, wore a little cap on his head all the time and refused
to work on Saturdays. His name was Abraham, (although he was generally
known as Andy) and he'd found his way to the Valley of the Toenail Ridge
after immigrating from Eastern Europe, escaping the bigotry of the locals
who thought a man's worth was measured by his bloodline and heredity
rather than by his merits. Andy had educated himself to read and
write English while working in New York on his arrival in the New Country.
He'd been employed as a labourer on the New York docks, and spent his evenings
in night school studying and his weekends in the synagogue, debating and
learning with his compatriots. Not a big man, he soon found that the hard
toil took a toll on his health so he enrolled in a shoemaker's course in
the Brooklyn Polytechnik and took a job working part-time with a boot-maker's
emporium in Queens. Once he had the knowledge behind him he set out to
establish himself as a specialist shoe maker for the gentry.
Unfortunately the gentry didn't often
venture into that part of the city that Andy called home so it wasn't too
many months before he found himself with considerable skills and no work
to apply those skills to. So he did what every ambitious man did at the
turn of the 20th Century, he hied himself West, chasing the setting sun
in search of personal success.
Now at the turn of that last century the
average denizen of the populace wasn't the educated and understanding individual
that now populates the country so Andy found on his journey through the
great heartland that considerable attention was drawn to him because of
his speech and dress. In a land that prided itself on all men being equal
(except for the blacks, Irish, Latins and
women, of course...) he found that some men
were more equal than others and his ethnic origins caused a number of good
and true men to utter derogatory remarks in his general direction or even
take financial advantage of him. He found that he had to sleep in barns
more often than hotels due to interesting exclusivity clauses printed in
large type behind numerous registration desks. But he was a stoic man and
pursued his goal of a better life by pushing ever westward towards his
Well, eventually, like many an immigrant
before him, he finished up in the thriving metropolis of Portland, Oregon.
Now Portland had its fair share of overseas-originated inhabitants, mostly
people from the Orient who had come to help the railroads span the continent.
And that created a bit of a problem for our Andy because the usual tradesman-type
jobs had already all been filled by all of those other immigrants. So he
needed somewhere else to try and establish himself.
Well, it doesn't take too much imagination,
gentle reader, to know where he finished up. It happened that he had temporarily
set himself up as a shoe-shine boy outside the Stock Exchange building
in an effort to forestall starvation for a few more days, when none other
than New Jersey Jack Lazyacre himself set himself down on Andy's stool
and requested politely that his hand-crafted riding boots be given a mirror-shine.
Now Lazyacre was a well-educated man and had few predudices in his life,
and certainly none against those of a different faith, so while Andy brought
those boots to the pinnacle of sheen New Jersey Jack chatted to him, inquiring
where he came from and what he had seen on his journeys.
Now Jack had a lot of pride in the little
community he called home and he could see that this young feller could
be an asset to that community. So he described to the young man what life
was like in the township of Selbyville and how they could REALLY use a
skilled shoe mechanic and then he suggested that Andy accompany him
on the next train to Rowell on the Portland & Great Eastern Railroad,
there to transfer to the Toenail Ridge Shortline and enter the Valley.
Well, for a person who has run out of
options in his life and the only choices left are between a rock and a
hard place the suggestion was like a lifeline thrown to a drowning man
so, taking only minutes to collect his belongings from where they were
stored at the local rabbi's, Andy shook the hand of Lazyacre and boarded
the taxi-cab with him to journey to the railroad station and thence to
the Valley of the Toenail Ridge.
Once upon a time there used to be a shop
in the main street of Selbyville that carried haberdashery and notions,
items for milady to buy when she was making her own clothes or outfitting
her children for school. Unfortunately the genteel woman who had managed
the shop had fallen on hard times and had left the Valley so the little
store had sat derelict for a number of years. Like so much of Selbyville
the deeds of the shop resided in New Jersey Jack Lazyacre's possession
and being a man with an eye to potential he offered the use of the premises
to Andy rent-free for a year to give him time to establish a business.
Now Andy had come to have a lot of admiration for the solicitor and had
also learnt the old adage about gift horses and their eating equipment
so with alacrity he seized on the offer and moved in. He set up living
quarters in the tiny back room using an old camp stretcher loaned to him
by one of the locals and hand lettered a sign for the front window: "Shoemaker
-- no job too small or too big".
Now as it happened one Ralf Grossenschaler,
miner and former patient of Doc Johnstone, happened to be in Selbyville
buying provisions and preparing for one of his monumental binges when he
saw the new sign in the old shop. Miners spend a considerable amount of
their time traversing rough country and stomping around in mud and shale
in shafts and creek beds so Ralf's hob-nailed boots had had a lot of work
and had most certainly seen better days. In a couple of places the only
thing keeping the mud out was the dried mud from the day before. So he
figured that he'd give the new business a try.
Now Ralf was a big man, in height
and bulk and personality so when he burst through the door of the shoemaker's
he startled little Andy quite severely, so much so that the bootmaker uttered
a surprised "Oi Veh! Gott in Himmell" in his native Yiddish. Well, Yiddish
is a form of medieval German and Ralf, hearing words in his beloved native
tongue, immediately jumped to the conclusion that here was a fellow who
hailed from the same part of the world as himself! And with that assumption
he stepped around the counter and engulfed the diminutive boot mechanic
in his brawny arms and hugged him to his chest, declaiming "Mein Freund!
Wilcommen nach Selbyville!"
In his former life Andy had had a number
of comings-together with large, strong, well-built blonde giants and on
not one of those occasions had the outcome been a happy one. So it was
with considerable terror that he felt himself lifted off the floor in the
bearhug of the miner and experienced the back-pummeling that in certain
cultures passes for male bonding. As he began to turn blue
from the tightness around his lungs Ralf set him back on his feet and holding
him at arms length said "So tell me, vere in der Vaterland are you from?"
Now Andy was a man of considerable intelligence
and he realized pretty quick that he had reached one of those impasses
in life where he had to choose between the truth and risk an unhappy reaction
or tell Ralf what the miner wanted to hear and live the rest of his life
in a lie, albiet a comfortable one. As it happened Andy had spent some
time in Germany on his way to America so was familiar with some of the
bigger cities and surrounding areas. He'd even worked for a couple of days
on the docks in Hamburg to get some eating money so with little other choice
he mumbled "I come from Hamburg". Fortunately Ralf had originated in the
south of the country in the Tyroll and wasn't too familiar with the northern
part so he couldn't relate to anywhere close to Andy's claimed home but
it didn't stop him waxing lyrical about the distant beauties of his former
abode. Of course most of what he said was lost on the little shoe-maker
because of the language so he held up his hand and said "Please, speaking
in English! I'm trying to learn it better!"
As we have discovered in the past, Ralf
was a gregarious man, given to excesses of friendship, booze and bonhomie
so, with his arm still wrapped around the diminutive shoulders of the little
Jew he said "Ve are taking ourselves down to Chuck Parker's saloon und
drinking a toast to our homeland!"
Now the way some things are expressed
they brook no counter-saying so Andy found himself leaving his little shop
and being half carried down Main St to the boozerteria where, once ensconced
on a stool at the bar and presented with a pint of lager he was introduced
to the denizens there-in as a 'vunderful fellow and a gut Freund of mein!'
by Ralf. Now as we've said, Ralf was a big man and so any friend of Ralf's
automatically became a friend of Andy's (as
the converse may have lead to an intimate discussion with the miner, and
even Tiny didn't like to gainsay Ralf). A
few of the men in the bar at that time of day recognized Andy's garb for
what it was and a few even picked his accent but they figured that since
his skin was pretty much the same colour as theirs was and his eyes had
the same shape then they could accept him in their midst.
One of the things that has never featured
heavily in middle European Jewish culture is alcohol. Not only was its
excess use frowned on for Biblical reasons but it just plain cost too much
for poor peasants to indulge in. With the result that Andy found that by
the time he'd hit the halfway point in his pint of lager his eyes were
presenting some unusual images to his optic nerves and his balance centre
was arguing with his ears about which way was really level and up. And
when he tried to answer a polite question from one of the locals he found
that his tongue didn't seem to fit its habitual abode anymore, having apparently
swelled in size so that he sounded like he was speaking with a mouth full
of cotton wool. His erstwhile companion, meanwhile had made a sizeable
dent in his first pint and was in the process of arranging another round
from the taciturn Chuck Parker behind the bar. Ralf slapped Andy on the
back to encourage him to hurry up and finish his first glass, with the
result that the bootmaker sprayed Chuck with copious amounts of ale and
then slowly slumped sideways from his high barstool, sinking into a gelatinous
heap at the feet of his companions.
The men of Selbyville who habitually inhabited
Chuck Parker's alcohol emporium were generally pretty hard working and
tough characters, used to doing a full day's work and drinking a full belly's
worth of beer so when they saw Andy collapse to the floor after just one
glass they immediately jumped to the conclusion that he had had some type
of illness overtake him, none of them even considering that a man would
have a reaction to only one drink. So with alacrity three of them picked
him up from the dusty floorboards and trundled him outside and up the street
to Doc Johnstone's office. The Doc had a pretty good reputation in the
Valley of the Toenail Ridge, having delivered babies, healed broken bones,
cured kids colds and helped ease the passing of a number of the older inhabitants,
and even though he still had a certain flush of youth on him he had gained
considerable experience in the ways and woes of his fellow creatures. So
when he fronted himself to the bearers of the bootmaker it was with decorum
and dignity, befitting the position he held in the town. He stepped down
from the elevated wooden sidewalk and immediately detected the aromatic
aroma of alcoholic ambience emanating from the Andy assistants. "So what
seems to be the problem?" he asked Ralf.
"Vell, Herr Doktor" started the
miner "mein Freund hier vas enjoying ein schmall glass mit uns und suddenly
he fell on der ground mit ein kalump! I zink he has der stroke!"
"Hmmm..." opined Doc Johnstone. "And how
much had this feller had to drink?"
"Vell, he hadn't even started! He vas
schtill on his first vun!"
"Bring him in, we'll have a look."
And with that the good doctor turned on
his heel and entered his premises with the three Good Samaritans bearing
the fallen arch-supporter right behind him. They laid him carefully on
the examination bench and stood back while Doctor Johnstone took Andy's
pulse and blood pressure and tapped his knees checking for reflexes. Now
Bill Johnstone was a highly educated young man, having experienced a privileged
upbringing back East. He recognized the little skull cap on the shoemaker
for what it was and noted the fringes of a shawl protruding from the waistcoat
of his patient. He'd come across these people while in medical school,
in fact one of his better acquaintances in the college dormitory had been
of the same faith so the doctor appreciated that his recumbent patient
had become the victim of booze on an unaccustomed system. With that, he
turned to the three behind him and said "Poor feller is just plain worn
out. You leave him here and I'll see to it that he recovers as good as
gold" and with that he ushered them through the door and outside.
In the fullness of time Andy regained
his senses and opened his eyes to be greeted by the sight of the doctor
bending over him with a beaming grin, offering a steaming cup of black
coffee. "Well, young man, since we haven't met yet, I am Dr Bill Johnstone
and you are recovering from being dead drunk. Reckon you hadn't tried the
stuff before, huh?"
Over the course of a few hours the two
exchanged details, Andy slowly explaining his background and how he came
to be in the Valley of the Toenail Ridge. The Doc could see that here was
an intelligent man who had more than his craft to offer the community but
he could also see that some impediments could arise due to the predudices
of some of the less enlightened folks who called Selbyville home. "Andy"
he said, " reckon you are gonna like living here in the Valley but... could
well be that some folks might take exception to the fact that you ain't
just quite like them, especially in matters of religion. You reckon I could
give you some advice?"
An intelligent man listens to good advice
when it's offered to him so Andy held out his coffee cup for a refill and
said "Well, Doctor, you know these people better than me. What should I
From the day Reverend Jeremiah Little
had met Mary-Jo Pears he had undergone a personality metamorphysis, changing
from a sour and stern God-botherer to the epitome of sweetness and light
for whom nothing was too much trouble. Dr. Johnstone crossed the room to
his newly installed new-fangled telephone and turned the crank to connect
to Florence Golightly, the Sebyville telephone operator. "Flo, connect
me through to Little, will ya?" said Dr. Bill "Got a little project for
"Little? Johnstone here ..... got a bit
of a conundrum for ya. Reckon you could git away from that lovely missus
of yours and drift over here for a cuppa coffee?"
Time was that folks had pretty clear views
on who belonged to which part of society, based on where you were born,
to whom, and what colour most of your skin was. ("most"
because an Appalachian coal miner's skin could be a damn sight darker than
an African's and he could still be wizard of his local Klan...)
so Little appreciated that in Andy he was presented with a bit of a challenge.
How to get the good folks of the Valley of the Toenail Ridge, with their
honest bigotry and predudices, to accept a man who descended from a people
that most blamed for the death of their personal object of religious veneration.
By now Andy reckoned that he could trust
the doc implicitly and also figured that since Rev. Little was a friend
of the good doctor then he was probably worth listening to as well.
Now it'd be nice to give a happy ending
to this little saga but in over a thousand years there has never been an
easy solution uncovered to the particular dilemma faced by the little shoe-maker.
Suffice it to say that Doc Johnstone and Reverend Little explained to Andy
what may be in store for him and then they did their best to paint a rosy
picture of the new inhabitant to their respective captive audiences and
after a few months had passed and a few dozen pairs of boots had regained
their water-resistant status Andy found that some of the folks didn't
hesitate from saying good morning to him or passing the time of day if
they ran into him in the street. In any society there will always be the
handful of bigots and in Selbyville they prospered just as well as everyone
else but life was a lot better than where Andy had come from and the weather
was kind and the food was plentiful. He copped the odd bit of nastiness
from the occasional idiot, or more commonly from the teenage sons of those
idiots but compared to his previous experiences it was water off a duck's
In time his little shop prospered and
he gained a reputation for quality work and reasonable prices, so much
so that he even made custom footware for those high-and-mightys who were
the upper strata in Portland. On one of his fitting trips to the State
Capitol he stopped in to visit with the local rabbi who had helped him
when he'd first arrived in the North-West and by sheer and wonderful co-incidence
the rabbi's brother's daughter happened to be visiting and before you knew
it the young man from the Olde Worlde had a wife and a future in the New.