Maybe it’s a small town thing, but when folks here attend a public event there’s a lot of time spent looking around so you don’t miss seeing and waving to everyone you know. After living here less than two months it might have seemed pointless, but then one of the first people we’d bumped into when we arrived at the fairgrounds greeted us by name.
Admittedly, he was about to sell us raffle tickets. Those raffle tickets are part of the Annual Kiwanis Auction – an event that this year raised over $20,000. Not bad for a Club in a town of some 5000 people, may of whom are considered “unemployed” or “under-employed” by the demographics types. Anyway, we got our number for bidding and climbed on to the bleachers. Lots of smiles and waves. Some were from people we actually knew.
Later, when the bidding started it became apparent that people were there for different reasons. Some merely were supporting the cause. (They bid $109 for $110 worth of donated fuel oil.) Others were there truly wanted something. (They bid a dining room set up to over $1100, the last twenty bids in one dollar increments.) Everyone paid attention, if only to speculate. “Wonder what Pete’s gonna do with that!?”
When the auction helpers rolled out the upright piano, a little girl – perhaps eight or nine – began squirming in her seat and whispering to her Mom. The auctioneer described the piano in glowing terms. “Made right here in Dover-Foxcroft… recently tuned and ready to play…” His patter didn’t find a volunteer to play something but started rapid bidding. When the bids reached $100, the competition was quickly reduced to “the man in the yellow shirt” and our little girl. The pace slowed some as she looked to her Mom for approval of each bid.
“… a hunnert fahty… do I have a hunnert fahty five?” There was hesitation in Mom’s nod and apprehension in the little girl’s eyes. Then finally a nod and the little girl’s hand shot up.
“a hunnert fahty five…. will you go one fifty?” to the man in the yellow shirt. Those who watched Mother and daughter saw a whispered conversation take place and recognized the pleading look a child can give. The man in the yellow shirt didn’t go one fifty. But he did go one forty six.
A tear rolled down the little girl’s cheek as she looked to her Mom, hand ready to shoot up and agree to one forty seven… The crowd seemed to hold it’s breath until Mom nodded her approval.
There was more Mother and daughter whispering while the man in the yellow shirt was considering the next dollar. Somewhere between one forty seven and one fifty the little girl’s tears began flowing copiously. The rest of us just knew what the whispering was. “We can’t go more than one fifty.”
As is often the case at public events, another drama was unfolding… Mother and daughter were seated in the top row of the bleachers – no doubt at the daughter’s insistence so the auctioneer wouldn’t miss their bids. Quietly, and almost un-noticed a small knot of people had gathered beneath them.
The auctioneer was now pleading with them… “One fifty one… don’t lose it for a dollar…” When mother shook her head “no,” a half dozen hands shot up beneath them, each offering a five dollar bill. One of the auctioneer’s helpers was waving a twenty dollar bill and yelling “Take this! Somebody give her this!”
The story could end here – the question is answered, at least in part. That’s why we moved to Maine, a place where people quietly gather round and help. Maybe the story should end here. Most people will want the end to describe Mother and smiling daughter driving off the in the traditional Maine pickup truck, piano loaded in the back. But the truthful end of the story is yet another reason we moved to Maine.
Mother wrapped her arms around and hugged that little girl so hard we lost sight of her. Without loosening her grip, her eyes went to each person with an outstretched hand. She mouthed more than said “No, thank you. Please, no,” and the warmth of her smile quickly dissipated any desire to argue. We didn’t like it, but we knew she was right.
We wanted that little girl to have the piano, but her Mom wanted her to know that you have to play fair and your word must be good. In a few short years that little girl will make a great neighbor. She’ll have learned to play fair. She’ll keep her word and expect others to do the same. She’ll understand quiet compassion and support. And – somehow – I think she’ll play a piano.