Giving gifts

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almost made fun of the work of a respectable man old enough to be my grandfather), I deleted the blog post at once, unpublished.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.

12 thoughts on “Giving gifts

  1. Is that a bad reason to give? Honest question here– no barbs, I promise. I’m on a Pure Motives rampage for myself and so I’m thinking about this… cuz I’m not sure I have anything left that I may try to prove, to myself- or anyone else, for that matter:)

    • I don’t hear any barbs; it’s a good question. Your Pure Motives rampage makes me smile – I admire and honor you for that, and nothing in me wants to discourage you from it.

      Myself, I’m a firm believer in Mixed Motives – not as an ideal, but as a reality. If I can get mine about 80% pure, I just go with it. (That percentage is not original with me, but I can’t think where it comes from…) I get discouraged from all good work when I insist that I have ONLY GOOD MOTIVES – one of the problems being that I usually don’t fully understand my motives until after the fact, when I see how my gift is received. Then I can see with unprecedented clarity that part of me was actually trying to look good, or to impress *that* person, or to make *him* feel bad. And the other part, the 80% part, just really loved people and Jesus and wanted to make the world better, unselfishly, by my gift. So by then it’s too late and I have to keep going. I have to keep giving even though I give imperfectly.

      None of us says “I am going to give so that I can feel good about myself.” But I’m suggesting here that (for me), feeling good is a beautiful part of giving, and only when giving avenues are for some reason closed do I realize how central *having something to offer* is to my identity and worth as a person – which is ordinarily a marvelous piece of the universe and a powerful incentive, and occasionally a black hole into which I sink.

      • Gotcha. I’d be the first to admit that my rampages aren’t always realistic and I need to learn a more consistent way than alternately set super high standards and get discouraged cuz it ain’t workin’ out like I thought it should. Who am I kidding: I give to convince myself of things:)

  2. This somehow undoes me, the idea of the old man, making his dogs… The potential for ridicule and misunderstanding. But he keeps doing it, like lady’s slippers blooming, lavishly exquisite but quite unknown, by a wooded creek, blooming just because something inside them compels them and they obey.
    Good to think about.

  3. I love this. I’ve kept coming back and re-reading and checking for comments because I couldn’t quite decide what it was that I loved so much nor how to comment about it. Still not sure that I can articulate…

    Just this — I think that selfless, simple obedience is really the heart of Christianity. Very few of us actually ‘get’ it; me included.

    • I kept coming back and checking for comments too. {grin} It’s an enigmatic story with an underside of pain. But what you said at the end (and Kendra, you too)… yes, exactly.

  4. This solves a mystery for us. We had one of these dear puppies at the end of our lane there at Cooley’s. And then began noticing then around the community. We always wondered who was spreading the joy…I love this quiet way of creating conversation and smiles. In one of my former lives, I frequently traveled a country road that wound along a stream. The highlight of that trip was watching for the gigantic rock in the middle of the creek, painted like a huge turtle. And did you ever get to see the lengthy pile of rocks along route 198 between guys Mills and blooming valley? They were painted white and the first rock had this profound explanation in bold black lettering:”ROCKS” 🙂 I think they have since been removed. Sadly. I chuckled every time I passed them.

  5. This is like people who keep dividing daffodils over and over, beyond their property lines. . or like people who blog, of course. lovely article that re-reads very well

  6. There’s a small group of individuals here in St. Louis (I had almost forgotten about this) who put $20 bills in envelopes and hide them around town. Sometimes it’ll be tickets to an event or a gift card to a restaurant. They have/had a Facebook page and put on there where the bigger things were (under the second bench, at Pine Park – for example). That semi-takes away the anonymity of it all by putting it “out there” (even though they don’t publish their names) but they continued leaving $20s in envelopes at random without telling where. I always thought that would be so fun to do. If you all want to send me some $20s, I’ll go do that! HAHA Really though, I’d love to do that some day just for fun.

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