Swap meets have been my favorite semi-annual event since I discovered them as a teenager. Upon entry at the gate, where you fork over a few dollars to get a car full of people in, you are greeted, overwhelmed, by the scents and sounds. Hickory smoke (headache, yes, but still sweet), crowing roosters, funnel cakes, clucking guinea fowl, hamburger stands, honking geese (and cars), bustling shoppers (some who occasionally spit or cuss), traders, barkers--
Barkers. A barker is a salesperson whose methodology includes talking proficiently, talking for a long time, and talking pleasantly to passersby, proclaiming the goods to be sold and their virtuous properties. I observed some barking, then picked it up. It really works. When you engage people, you are at least ten times more likely to snag a sale.
This swap meet I was handicapped severely: I had come down with laryngitis. If I tried really hard I could occasionally force an audible whisper, which would use up all my vocal powers for the next half hour.
This swap meet was different in another way: I was moving to a less rural area, and I had to find a home for my dog. He was a farm dog, rough and ready, large and active, and a small home or a caged life was just not acceptable for him. I had to find a farmer who'd let him run with the cattle and sleep in the barn.
I put up signs on the back of the SUV explaining why I was giving away the dog. Many passersby oohed and ahhed over the dog, especially when he did a trick that he'd taught himself: he sat beside me and rested his paw on my hand.
"Aww," they'd say, "they're holding hands."
I'd smile and nod, unable to say anything.
As the day wore on and lunchtime came and went (I gave the dog half my string cheese), I decided to take him for a walk and see if I could find anyone who'd make a good candidate. I attached a sign to his back that read FREE and set out walking, with this beautiful, flashy, black and white dog tugging at the leash. I knew it would be hard to let him go, but I reminded myself of the story of how Moses' mother put her baby into a basket, and how it was for the best, and I pressed on.
Some of the people I passed had also seen him holding hands with me, and evidently had not read the sign explaining why I needed to give him a new home. All they saw was a person giving away a loving animal, and their eyes said traitor. Some of those people actually hated me, and I wondered why they thought they had any right to judge me. I couldn't have spoken up for myself if I tried, so I ignored them and pressed on.
I paused to look at some handmade wooden puzzles. I felt sorry for the man, retired and supplementing his income by making them. If I have time when I get back to the car, I may return and buy one, I thought. All of a sudden many people were frowning and growling at me. I turned to see the dog, nervous from the long car ride, relieving himself in the middle of the gravelled walkway. If I'd had on my person the wherewithal to clean it up, I would have. And if I'd known he was going to do that, I would have moved him to a better place. But neither were the case, so I walked onward, followed by many a hateful stare.
After all the aisles, after all the hate, after all the people who were sympathetic but unable to help, at the head of the last aisle my feet were turning towards the car, and my weariness became insistent. Yet somehow, intuitively, I said out loud, "If I don't go down this aisle, I'll never find him a home." I pressed on.
The aisle I hadn't wanted to go down was sparsely populated with people who had little or nothing to sell. I preferred main paths to little out-of-the-way ones as a matter of policy. I traveled all the way down one side of it and halfway back up the other side, where sat a kindly looking man in the back of a pickup truck, who hollered out to me, "Come here!"
I smiled and brought the dog over. His young grandson looked pleased. I liked the man, and I liked the child.
"Do you raise those?" he asked.
"I used to," I said in a preciously forced whisper.
He petted the dog. "I've been wanting a pup sometime. He's a fine dog. I was going to get your number and ask for a pup out of him."
The "free" sign had slipped. When the farmer petted the dog his hand discovered it. He lit up with gladness.
"You're giving him away?"
"I'm moving," I whispered. "He needs a larger place to live."
"May I have him?"
I nodded, smiled, handed him some vet records, and watched as they loaded him into a cage in the truck. Silently I thanked God, and gladly I went home to nurse the headache that was fast approaching from the smell of hickory smoke.