The U.S. Senate is agonizingly slow when it comes to taking care of the backbone of America, its farmers and ranchers. As of this writing, senators are still wrangling over whether or not to finish a farm bill before yearend.

I'm assuming, given the distance between opposing views at presstime, they're still debating in the first week of 2002. Their slowness reminds me of a story.

Back in 1942, a young man in my hometown discovered a hole in his favorite pair of shoes, so he took them down to the local shoe shop. As he walked through the door, a bell jangled and the old cobbler began a slow shuffle from the back, where he was stitching up a pair of brogans. He greeted the young man in a quavering voice that more than hinted at his age, examined the shoes and allowed as how he could fix them up “good as new.”

He wrapped the shoes in brown paper, handed the young man a claim check, told him to check back in a week, shuffled to the back of his shop, scribbled a brief note on the package, placed it on a shelf and went back to his work.

The young man went home, stuck the claim check in a drawer and went on about his business. A few days later, the United States entered World War II. The young man joined the Navy, went to Florida for basic training and shipped out to the Pacific where he served courageously for the rest of the war.

He was decorated for valor, rose rapidly through the ranks, respected by both enlisted men and officers.

When peace was restored, he moved to New York, got married, had children and became a successful businessman, respected by colleagues and competitors alike. Years passed and he rarely visited his hometown.

After his parents both passed away he returned and decided to turn the family home into a vacation cottage for his family, assuming Springtown, S.C., would become a retirement haven.

As he was cleaning out the house and sifting through old papers, he found the claim ticket from the shoe shop. To satisfy his curiosity, he walked downtown, just to see if the shop was still there. It was, so he went in.

As he walked through the door, a bell jangled and an old cobbler, who looked vaguely familiar, began an agonizingly slow shuffle from the back, where he was stitching up a pair of brogans.

He finally made it to the front counter and the no-longer-young man handed him the claim check. The cobbler looked at the yellowed, creased, stained piece of paper, turned and shuffled into the back of the shop, where he rummaged through piles of packages until he unearthed a dust-coated brown paper bundle. He looked at a note written on the paper, placed the bundle back on the pile, and shuffled slowly, painfully, back to the front of the shop.

The old man, in a quavering voice that more than hinted at old age, handed the claim check back to the man and said: “They'll be ready next Tuesday.”

Perhaps the Senate will shuffle around a bit more vigorously so we'll have a new farm bill sometime “next Tuesday.”

rsmith@primediabusiness.com