Craftsmen, true craftsmen I’m referring to, are fading into history. Today they are replaced by electronic devices or updated technology requiring different skill sets all together. Often the niche these craftsmen filled has disappeared without fanfare into obsolescence.
While walking downtown last week I passed a set of stone stairs leading down from the street. Curiosity getting the best of me, my eyes followed the railing leading to the basement level. A simple etched wooden sign hanging by the front door of a small shop read “Shoe Repair”. Really? Though I had no shoes with me, nor any needing mending at home, I was compelled to go in. A doorbell tinkled above my head as I entered. An old building, the windows in the small shop were opaque not allowing much light to filter through. What light had squeezed in illuminated a cramped room dominated by banks of interconnecting wooden counters. There was no wasted space on any of the counter surfaces leaving little room for business to be conducted. Wooden shoe forms in all sizes and shapes lay on their sides as if tossed about by a strong wind. Beyond the counters on a back wall were rows of cubbies filled with shoes waiting for their owners to claim them or to be repaired. Atop the rest of the clutter, piles of wadded oily rags and an assortment of tools and polishes made the picture complete. Truthfully, it’s been a long while since I’ve resoled a pair of shoes or had a broken strap repaired. Shoes have become disposable items since not working full time anymore. Other than several pairs of boots and dress shoes, I now pick up everyday shoes at outlet store sale bins or off pharmacy shelves. The Queen hasn’t accepted my invitation to tea so I feel I’m covered.
Moles would have done well to run the place but it turned out to be the gentlemen sitting on the stool behind the counter looking for all the world like Santa. I resisted the urge to mention I would really enjoy a trip to Bali in my stocking this year if he wasn’t too busy. Had an elf walked by with a tiny hammer in one hand it wouldn’t have surprised me a bit. Asking if he could help me, I explained I was browsing. Realizing this sounded a bubble short of ridiculous, I said it had been a while since I’d seen a shoe repair shop, adding I had a pair of shoes that I needed to bring in. The latter was complete fabrication, but after the browsing statement I found him looking at me as though I was planning on robbing the place. Lovely it was to take in the familiar smells of polish and leather cleaner associated with the business of tinkering with shoes. Continuing polishing the handsome brown leather boot in his hand, he told me any shoes needing repair should be brought in before the end of the year as he would be retiring around Christmas. Appropriately, I thought, I’m sure he has lots of work to do around that time of year. No one, he said, had stepped up (so to speak) to take his place so there would be no shoe repair in town once he was gone. A third generation of shoe repairmen, he acknowledged with a note of regret his two boys showed little interest in shoes other than the colorful soccer cleats popular in the stores. For some reason this made me sad.
As a kid I can remember standing next to my grandmother in a similar store. The smells then were more of grease and oil. My hand rested in hers while she discussed fixing the “Hoover” with a man with a handlebar moustache wearing a floppy brimmed fishing hat. Hoover was how my grandmother referred to our sweeper. As a child I believe I actually thought this was the machine’s given name. Whether it was actually a Hoover, or a generic name for vacuums of the time, I have no clue. However, Hoover it was and Hoover it would be until my grandmother passed. Perhaps it’s like Xerox. No matter what the make of the copier, I lump them all under the term Xerox machines. I would think no matter what you deem them they will all be obsolete before long as well.
Many old and familiar occupations and handicrafts are on their way out. Farming, such as the family farm of old, is moving away from individual management and becoming big business run by corporations and conglomerates. Young boys growing up on farms are migrating to the cities to pursue more current ways of bringing home a dollar. Always as a child I was fascinated with farming. A hard life for certain, but it seemed like it would be wonderful to work in the soil and bring things to life.
Fifteen years ago I flew to Manitoba to work on a farm two hours north of Winnipeg. My plane landed early evening. My ride was there with a sign bearing my name and when introductions had been made and the luggage loaded it was well into the night when we arrived at the farmhouse. In spite of my lack of sleep I awoke literally with the roosters the following morning. Although barely after sunrise I found the cozy kitchen a beehive of activity. Having already met the farmer himself, I was now introduced to the rest of the family including the paternal grandparents, the farmer’s son, his wife and their toddler, busying himself with a bowl of cereal. Bob, the farmer, was a widower of ten years. A man of medium height, with eyes the color of the sky he had a handsome if somewhat sun worn face. Thinking they had just gotten up as had I, was told the men had been out in the fields while the women stayed behind to have breakfast on the table when they arrived home. What a breakfast it was. Homemade buckwheat pancakes with Canadian maple syrup, fresh butter, a lacey strawberry rhubarb pie made with harvest from their garden, and a rasher of crispy thick sliced bacon. Yum. Later when introduced to the dozen or so snorting pigs in the fragrant pens in the far barn, I had the nagging sensation one of them had joined us in absentia for breakfast.
Never will I forget my experience there. Bouncing along in the cab of the tractor with the rich smell of the fields all around me. The comradery around the dinner table and the ties that held them close sharing a common love of their land.
There is always something to be embraced as new inventions and technology replace the old, but the true craftsman can never be replaced by a machine or device.
These carnitas are so easy to make and taste fabulous.
Corona Crockpot Carnitas
1 3 lb. pork shoulder or butt
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
2 16 oz. tubs hot, chunky salsa
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 7 oz. bottle Corona beer
6 large flour tortillas
Mix together garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, chili powder, coriander, salt, and pepper. Rub well into meat. Spray 6 quart crockpot with cooking spray. Place rubbed meat in crockpot. Mix together salsa, lime juice, and jalapeno. Pour over top. Cook on low for 9 hours.
Open lid and pour Corona over meat. Continue cooking for 1 hr. Open crockpot and shred meat with forks. Cook for 2 more hours on low.
Place tortillas on microwave safe plate. Wrap in damp cloth. Cook on high for 1 min. Wrap in tin foil to keep warm.
Serve carnitas with sour cram, avocado slices, lime wedges, and salsa if desired.