Not for Sale

All the signs in the tiny town of Fitzwilliam in New Hampshire had the same bold and unadorned lettering, whether for selling antiques, welcoming travelers to a bed and breakfast, or announcing an art exhibit in the library. Only a diminutive place like that could be so consistent across-the-board; I bet the town council vote that must have been behind the phenomenon. The art exhibit sign announced that the artist was Bill Barefoot. Who could pass up checking out an artist with a name like that? Besides, it was the only art show in this town of some four thousand people and I happened to be passing by during the small window of hours when the library was open. The paintings were relegated to the perfectly silent top floor, far far away from the auditory trails of murmuring patrons and of the children’s unedited voices below. I figured I would see something banal like nearby New Hampshire landscapes. They were landscapes, and they were from the area, but pleasing. And they were for sale.

As I came up to the front to leave a trace of my presence in the guestbook as evidence that someone that day cared enough to have a look, I noticed one painting to the left, marked, “NSF”—Not for Sale. It depicted the artist as an aging man hugging his likewise aging Collie to his chest. Mr. Barefoot’s hair was whitish grey, as was the dog’s fur. They must have been there for each other in many ways for a good long time. It was the best of the lot, but not for sale. Too bad, I thought, for no other painting drew me into its emotional field. What a teaser a NSF sign is! I wondered if the dog were no more. What was the artist remembering and feeling during the embrace and afterwards as he painted it? What was the dog experiencing? I wondered why he could not part from the piece, and I pondered other artists who have displayed artwork “NSF.” From what I remember, the ones not for sale were always the better works. Or is this just the phenomenon of forbidden, and therefore much more unavailable, fruit?

After signing the guestbook with the comment that “I felt the most emotionally drawn to your self-portrait of you and your dog,” I stood before it again. Maybe for Mr. Barefoot selling it would represent devaluing the meaning of the work, or that of his feelings for his dog, or feelings about ageing, or of whatever else ranked of high importance. Or perhaps he feared lest the buyer would not look upon it as he had but just as a “pretty painting.”

At times it must be hard for a graphic artist to part with an original. (We writers are so lucky. We can sell infinite copies of our books, like the “same” flame lighting candle after candle. The notion of an “original” for me is somewhat unintelligible anyways. I do not feel attached to how this post is stored on my hard drive before I put it online.) I imagine that if Mr. Barefoot were to part with that painting, it would symbolically be one way of parting with his dog, or with something—perhaps his unverbalized emotions about aging– that defines who he is. He would not be quite the same without that painting, like a dog suddenly missing one toe. When someone close to us dies or leaves us, we are no longer the same; we go on minus the interactions we had with them. That which we have lost is irretrievable, and no longer available at any price.

 

 

A First for Buster, Max, Princess and Molly: Pet Blessings

Buster’s latest diary entry: My owner Stacey makes sure my life’s not dull. Yesterday it was a pet costume contest where I had to strut around in a suffocatingly hot Superman outfit. Ugh! Today it was a pet blessing ceremony. As usual, I had begun my fitness routine in a dog run in a city park, but I knew something was up when Stacey trotted on over to the nearby gazebo, where plenty of other doggies were milling around, plus one cat that doggedly remained seated on her owner’s lap. I’m like what’s up, and then some alpha human named Chaplain Daniel started talking and we and all our owners all settled down along the edges of the gazebo. The word that most stood out in my mind in that chap’s introduction was “treats,” so I figured if that was on the agenda it would be worth my while to sit still. The other dogs were just as smart, because they arrived at the same conclusion and didn’t interrupt overly often.

The ceremony was not half bad as human noise making goes, and a guitar in the background made up for some of the “for humans only” type of chatter. But man my ears went on triple alert when I heard later on I could get my very own individualized blessing. That was a doggie of a different color; almost as valuable as a treat–well maybe that’s pushing it. Anyhow, a great big line of dogs formed along with their owners to wait their turn for Daniel’s made-up-on-the-spot blessings. As I waited in line, I swear I couldn’t help overhearing what the other dogs’ issues were. I thought their blessings were gonna be things like, “May your bruised leg get better soon,” or “hope you get frisky again like when you were younger.” Nope. Most of the blessings were about emotional things like, “May your dog lose her timidity and come to enjoy dogs and people more and more.” Or, “Molly has been sad and not sleeping well. May she find her zest for life again and speed along the dog run with new-found joy.”  The blessing I got was pretty lame: try to give Stacey (my owner) more slack. Argh! as Snoopy would have said. I thought the blessing was supposed to be for us, not our owners.

By the way, pets that were absent were part of this deal. I don’t mean just that they were not there, I mean they were gone forever. When Chaplain Dan said, “Bless our cherished pets  who have left this world but not our hearts,” I almost whimpered with sad memories about my parents. The chaplain then paused for people to say the names of their lost pets, and I was astonished at hearing a whole pile of ’em. A cat owner even got up to read a poem in it’s memory, how about that? Later I heard Karen, another chaplain (Sheesh, how many chaplains do you need at one time, anyway?) go over to that lady and mention how often  humans can be so insensitive about other people’s pets dying and act like grieving over them is nonsense. The lady basically replied, “And how!”

Oh, and I almost forgot: the treats, including animal crackers and bone-like strips got 5 stars, according to yours truly.   Yours truly, Buster

(Editor’s note:) The fancy shmansy word for types of grief that society delegitimizes is “disenfranchised grief.” Pet owners, and even fellow pets that lived with a pet who has passed (that’s another story), have every right to grieve for their pets as they need to. Not only that, did you know there’s such a thing as pet hospices? It’s true. They are all over, and two of them are called “Pawsitive Passings” and “Compassionate Care Cat Hospice.” You can see for yourself at the website of the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care. Their address: http://www.iaahpc.org/