Bending Wood or The Worth Of A Man

I grew up with very able people, with backbones of steel and the resolve of soldiers. They faced down hard country, bad weather, uncertain crops and an overreaching state government that was in the words of Benito Mussolini, "the perfect marriage of the corporation and the state".
 
But there was one who might not have been so able, who was memorable all the same and occupies a warm place in my memory. I'm going to call him Olaf, because he was of Norwegian descent and the child of immigrants. Olaf was an itinerant farm hand. He was a simple laborer who owned no more than he could carry. He went from farm to farm working for room, board and a little pay. He had a harmonica … and a drinking problem.
 
Once when I was twelve years old, I overheard my father say, "There are twelve-year-olds who are better farm hands than he is, but he deserves a roof, three squares and some money. And he earns that." When Olaf got paid, he went to town, and to the bar, and stayed drunk until his money was gone. Then he came back.
 
When he worked for us, Olaf stayed in the "old house" on the farm. Two of my sisters tell me that when they were in high school, they would sneak over to the "old house" to hang out with Olaf and smoke cigarettes. Even though Olaf was often drunk, always lonely, and my sisters were pretty, he was a perfect gentleman with them. As with me, he would tell them stories and play polkas for them on the harmonica.
 
When I was twelve, Olaf made me my first pair of skis. He made them from scratch.  He scrounged wood on the farm. He boiled water on top of the cast-iron coal-fired stock tank heater. He stood in the winter wind and soaked the wood, bent it with pliers, carved it with his hunting knife, and built those skis as if he had been doing it all his life and I was his own son. I will never forget that.
 
Olaf was the same age as my father. He was just over 65 when he died - in a drafty rented room in the back of a laundromat in a tiny prairie town. He had one shoe off and one shoe on. There was a empty whiskey bottle beside him. He never married, he left no children. But he left me a pair of skis. I don't know what happened to them, but I bet they still work.
 
What was the worth of this man? God tells us that he loves us all the same; but what was his worth? Was he worth as much as Phil Gramm, who authored the bill that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act and in many experts' opinions paved the way for what was almost the financial ruin of the world? Was he worth as much as George Soros when Soros almost brought down the Bank of England? Was he worth as much as my father, who farmed and was a licensed pilot until the age of 93 and fought the government to a standstill? I say yes. Because God loves us all the same, and Olaf could bend wood. 
 
As a footnote: The school auditorium and gymnasium in my home town are named after a very able and very worthy school janitor. And that's the rest of the story.