A chance encounter with a friendly shoemaker in New York City earlier this week got me to thinking about the personal values we bring to work. This gentleman — who, to my amazement, offered to fix my shoe while I waited (!) … and then proceded to do exactly that, with great care and expertise — reminded me in several ways of my late grandfather, who began his career as a shoemaker as a 9-year old boy in Sicily. He emigrated to the U.S. in the 1920’s, opening his own shoe repair shop in Elmhurst, Queens a few decades later, which is where our story begins …
Leather dust, Italian opera, and lunchtime culture lessons
My grandfather was a kind, proud, hard-working, happy man with strong hands, and fingers blackened by 75 years of working with leather. He enjoyed his work, and put his heart into fixing his customers’ shoes to “as good as new” every time. But leather soles, heels, and taps weren’t the only things on offer in his shop — or even the main reason many of his regular customers came by the shop.
With operatic music in the background, he was always eager to share a story, ponder a bit of philosphy, or inquire about your family — in heavily accented English accompanied by a warm smile. While shoemaking was his profession, helping people — with a word of support, a twinkle in the eye, or a hand of friendship — was his vocation, and he practiced it every day, day after day, year after year, well into his eighties, in that little shop in Queens.
Succeeding Generations, Same Values
It was that vocation — of using his work to help people in ways large and small — that he passed down to my father, who passed it down to me. Though the context has changed — from a shoe repair shop, to Continue reading