A pair of golden hands

DAD was a master tailor, trained in Austria at the end of the last century. Though he had no formal schooling past the second grade, he trained himself to read and write. The tragedy was that he had no opportunity for formal art training. Dad had, in the Jewish vernacular, ``a pair of golden hands.'' I remember best the people who surrounded him on the beach in summer as he created sand sculptures. Then there were the afternoons when I was very little, sitting on his work table with my legs crossed under me as his were. How deep run the lessons learned by watching, not by telling. To this day I cannot sew with too long a thread, or not pull thread through the material very quickly, for the thread does not matter -- the needle has set the stitch. The jerky motion of that sewing is as real in my imagination today as the paper I type upon.

In a day when speed of manufacture, uniformity of product, and indifferent workmanship are the rule, I cherish the memory of artistic work lovingly and pridefully done. Who can challenge the proposition that a handmade buttonhole can be a masterpiece?

We never had much money. Dad was always cutting his prices to save money for the wealthy Park Avenue customers who came to his small shop. But his sense of responsibility was total. On the way to his last stay in the hospital at age 82, while my brothers gnashed their teeth in frustraton that he would lose the available room, Dad calmly cut an Easter suit for the hunchbacked minister of the Park Avenue church who preached from a wheelchair that Easter Sunday.

A quiet man, my father, who taught love, responsibility, caring, and art by doing, not talking.

This poem is a tribute to him.

I am my father ``The pins are not straight'' My back is bent ``Pull up, pull up'' I am my father ``The cloth must fall free It has life of its own Let it go, let it go'' I am my father ``Push down on that iron Press down, lift up And pat and pat'' I am my father His life is renewed His soul is here In the work of my hands.

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