Confession: I once wrote a blog post called The Great Bird-Dog Mystery, about some puzzling wooden objects that kept popping up around my town, nailed to fences and signs. The post was a little bit sassy and a little bit tongue-in-cheek, and I had it all typed up and ready to publish (Where do they come from? Who makes these things? What are they exactly?) when my husband glanced over my shoulder (a thing he is strictly forbidden to do, but – you know how that goes) and said, “Oh, don’t you know?” and pulled up a news article in the Meadville Tribune explaining the phenomenon.
Which is, simply, that an elderly Italian man who lives very near to me likes to make dogs out of wood. He hand-cuts them and hand-paints them (each is unique) and leaves his gifts in prominent places around the neighborhood, for people to enjoy.
In disgust with myself (and the non-mystery of my mystery, and the sacrilege of having almost made fun of the work of a respectable man old enough to be my grandfather), I deleted the blog post at once, unpublished.
But I still think of that man from time to time – especially when I see his creations, but other times too – and somehow it gets me, the way he labors quietly in his shop over a bit of fallen tree, and sands it smooth and paints it, and leaves it around town so that the people will have joy. Probably sometimes he goes back to check on one and finds that somebody has removed it, and he doesn’t know where it went. Maybe into the TriCounty waste bin.
I imagine that in between his unpretentious dog-planting he is quite a regular old Joe, and pays his taxes and stops at stop signs and helps his daughter around the house.
He is a wise old man.
As I grow old, I too learn that when you must give something surprising and non-status-quo, because it felt good to paint it and there it is in your hand, it is best you should do it anonymously and without asking. Because sometimes people don’t know what to do with it or can’t be troubled to get back with you or have no room, or it’s against the institute’s policy or it’s at a bad time of year, and then you are standing there with a wooden dog in your hand, his painted spots a little lopsided, and no one wants him.
That must hurt. If you are a quiet old man.
Sometimes we give gifts to convince ourselves we have something to give.