Sometimes the story you think you’re going for is not the one you get. In fact, if you’re truly open to listening, the real story is almost always something unexpected. Michael’s story, American Faces No. 74, once again reinforced that important lesson. Michael’s story also reminds us that the world is small, and people are brought across our path for a reason.
Michael operates a shoe repair shop in Osseo, Minnesota, called Michal’s Shoe Repair (yes, the name is spelled wrong – more on that in a minute). It started as a literal “mom and pop” operation in 1962, down in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota at the Brookdale Mall, and moved to Osseo in 2000. Michael began working in the shop when he was around 14 years old, learning the craft of shoe, boot and leather repair – and how to serve customers – from his own mom and pop. Michael served a few years in the Army National Guard after highschool, testing the limits of his youthful resistance to authority, then returned to work with his parents in the shop and to eventually be his own boss. He still serves customers one at a time, writes up work orders on paper slips, manages projects and inventory in his head, and remembers every customer by the type of shoe they wear. Michael’s old school in the best ways, in about every definition of the term.
In one respect, this is a story about craftsmanship, about a dying art form, and perhaps even about how even though we live in a throw-away culture where things are seemingly not made to last, people still find some satisfaction in repairing their favorite boots… just one more time.
Now, back to that misspelled sign…
Where this story takes an interesting turn, and lands in the category of “things that make you go, ‘hmmm,” is the story behind the sign. You see, “Michal” is how his name is spelled in the Old Country. And the guys making the sign just (mistakenly) assumed he’d want it that way, because that’s how they spelled it where he and his family came from. It’s at this point Michael shared that his parents immigrated to the United States when he was a toddler. They brought their craft over from the home country, building a full life for their son.. and his kids and theirs, now third-generation Americans.
Michael still dreams of going back to the old country, visiting the town where he was born, riding a motorcycle through the countryside where his parents grew up, seeing the places and tasting the food they told him of. He still hopes to someday see the rest of the family he’s never met.
Those dreams now come with prayers, for the safety and survival of his family and homeland. You see, Michael was born in Ukraine.
Providence is an interesting thing. Sometimes people are placed in our path for a reason. And sometimes the story behind the story is really what we're supposed to hear.
Thank you Scott Whitman for your amazing writing.