My great-grandfather Louis Silber immigrated with his wife and children from Vilna, Lithuania, to St. Louis, MO in the first years of the 20th century. Ben (my grandfather) was born in St. Louis; the first native-born American on my Dad’s side of the family. I don’t know exactly why the Silbers emigrated, but as Jews from the Pale of Russia, I assume it was for religious freedom and more opportunities for education and financial security. A shoemaker by trade, Louis worked at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, fixing broken heels, laces, and holes in people’s soles. I always think of him (although I know him only through photographs and stories) whenever I see the movie, Meet Me in St. Louis. Soon, Louis opened a shoe repair shop and the family of 7 lived above the store. The family prospered, renting out apartments in the building and sending the children to public school. The kids all helped bring in money with jobs like selling vegetables from a pushcart before school. Grandpa Ben’s earlobes had become frostbitten doing this job and were hard and stiff for the rest of his life. He graduated from high school and became a typesetter; I remember his fingernails permanently stained with ink. I found this wonderful shoe-stretcher while going through some of my Dad’s belongings after his death in July, 2015. It’s the only object I have of my great-grandfather’s and it sits on top of a bookcase in my bedroom.
– Loren Silber