a shoemaking story by Rasmus Wennström

was There was a knock on my door. Not expecting a visit, I answered in curiosity. There stood an elderly man with silver hair. I recognized him as a neighbour from a couple of houses up the street. We had greeted several times, but never really talked. His hands held behind his back, he explained how he really didn’t want to be a bother of any kind, and I assured him that it was fine.
“I heard you were a shoemaker”, he said. He must have heard as much through the suburban grapevine.
“Oh, well, I try my best – but I’m really only a hobbyist”.
“Yes, yes, but you do make shoes?” There was an unmistakable glimmer of expectation in his eyes.
“Well, yes, I guess I do”.

It was the right answer.

He opened up in an instant, and explained how his cherished grandfather had been a shoemaker. His grandfather had passed away long ago, when the now silvery neighbour was only a little boy. The memories of the grandfather were left in short supply, but it was clear that old gramps had been loved.
“In any memory I do have left of him, he was always sat there with a last, working attentively”, said the neighbour. He continued with a nostalgic gleam: “To this day, I remember the joy in his eyes as he sat there, pegging shoes.”

He gave a slight sigh. “Now, of course, I have myself become the grandfather, with children and grandchildren of my own. But, not one of them has any sense to appreciate shoemaking!” That’s a real shame, I confirmed. “That’s why I thought I would bring this to you”, he said as he took his arms forth from behind his back, revealing a little artifact.

“I don’t know how long I have left”, he continued. Such honesty can be chilling. “When I go, I would like the memory of my grandfather to live on. My own children and grandchildren have no relation to him, and they cannot relate to the joy he got from shoemaking. They wouldn’t understand what this is.”

The artifact he revealed was the stub of an old shoemaker knife, ground down to the very end. Supported by a little piece of wood and with leather wrapped around it, the short length of the blade gave witness to years of use. “I think that you would understand what this is”, he said. “I mean… it isn’t just the stub of an old knife. It’s a testament to years of work, and years of joy. In all its simplicity, it’s almost like a little monument to life. I fear my own children wouldn’t know what to do with it, and I don’t want it to just get thrown away when I am gone. I’m actually sure it would only be thrown in the rubbish if I wasn’t around, although it means a lot to me. I loved grandpa. That’s why I would like to ask if you could be interested in taking it.” Toning down the pricelessness of the keepsake, and how he could pass it on to an almost stranger, he ensured me that “it’s that or the trash.”

Of course, I was honoured. His grandfather was likely born in the late 1800’s, and this heirloom is not just some useless stub. It’s a connection through time, and it is a monument to life. I post this story in an attempt to further proliferate the memory of this unknown shoemaker, who was loved by his grandson.

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