Poor Brenda Frazier.
She had to tell a polite, industrious 12-year-old boy that it was time to pack up his shoeshine box and leave the Hernando County Government Center in Florida.
The woman whose usual job is to put a smiling face on government had to reveal its other side — callous, small-minded and, according to some of the comments on the Tampa Bay Times’ website, tampabay.com, anti-Christian and anti-business.
The county’s community relations coordinator had to play the heavy — the villain — in this morality tale.
For those unfamiliar with the story, Patrick MacGregor, a pastor’s son raising money for a mission trip, showed up at the government center on Monday with his rags, brushes and cans of polish in an old-time wooden box. He put up a sign advertising shines for the really old-time price of $2.
He did a brisk business, collecting $200, including tips, in about the only place in Hernando where a decent percentage of folks still wear shiny shoes.
He charmed them with his quality work, by opening doors for adults and addressing them as “sir” and “ma’am,” by not being another young “Call of Duty”-addicted zombie.
Frazier was the one who had to tell him that, sorry, son, we have a policy against this sort of thing.
Seven years ago, inundated with requests from outside groups, the county limited where these groups can set up shop and required them to carry liability insurance.
This isn’t quite Mayberry, in other words, and we can’t let public spaces become ad hoc flea markets. It sounds reasonable to me but not to a lot of the other readers who made this one of the most-commented-upon, most-shared stories on the Times’ website.
The story took off because its hero is an especially handy and familiar symbol of industrious youth. Horatio Alger’s famous character, Ragged Dick, started off as a “boot black.” A cheerful shoeshine boy is the subject of Johnny Cash’s rousing “Get Rhythm.” Opie Taylor never shined shoes, as far as I know, but he certainly could have.
Pitted against this admirable child was Frazier, representing the loathsome state. To read some of the more mean-spirited comments, you’d think she and the county are intent on closing lemonade stands and shutting down production of cupcakes from Easy-Bake Ovens. Not to mention singling out Patrick because of his religion.
None of that is true. Frazier, 58, spends most of her days writing upbeat news releases and hosting feel-good shows on the government broadcasting channel. She’s a mother of three adult children whom she remembers selling candy to raise money for school activities. She calls herself a “born-again Christian.”
Certainly, Patrick’s parents don’t blame Frazier. And if you’re tempted to blame them — and, yes, maybe they should have checked with somebody before dropping him off — consider that an older son was able to shine shoes at the government center for several weeks shortly before the policy forbidding it went into place in 2006. Plus, Patrick’s parents get a pass for raising such a good kid.
So, instead of blaming anybody, maybe we should look at the community response.
County Commissioner Diane Rowden has invited Patrick to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the commission’s next meeting.
A Brooksville charity, Love Your Neighbor, offered to cover Patrick under its insurance policy. The county cleared this arrangement with its lawyers, which means that, starting next week, he should be able to shine shoes in the designated space for such activities at the government complex — in front of the county’s historic courthouse.
So, we showed that our government isn’t all bad, that our community isn’t too large and impersonal, that we appreciate good qualities in kids and can bend a little bit to encourage them.
If this means Brooksville is still a little bit like Mayberry, that’s OK by me.