Paying for Quality
by Jo Elizabeth Pinto
My first husband Jim was an artist. He made detailed wood carvings, miniature houses and whole towns and scenes out of painted matchsticks and toothpicks, and intricate pictures cut from light-colored birch plywood with dark walnut backgrounds. He spent hours on his craft, never settling for less than perfection in any of his creations.
One autumn afternoon, a woman stopped by a stand at an outdoor holiday market and picked up a bear Jim had carved. The bear was about as long as the woman’s forearm, standing on its hind legs, and very realistic, down to the bristly fur that stood out on its rough coat. The woman admired the animal and asked for a price.
“That much?” she sniffed when Jim answered her question. She put the bear back on the table as if it were a rotten pear. “It’s just a piece of wood, for goodness sake!”
I stiffened, worried that Jim–who sometimes had a volatile temper–might blow his stack. I had visions of us getting kicked out of the holiday market, maybe even going to jail and making the local newspaper.
But Jim only pointed to the chunk of pine clamped in the vice at the end of the table. He had begun to rough out the vague graceful curve of a rainbow trout from the block, but the delicate fins, the tapering tail, the round eyes and perfect mouth–none of the details that would eventually make the fish seem as if it were leaping in living glory were yet present.
“No ma’am,” Jim said mildly. “That’s just a piece of wood.”
The woman sputtered and stammered for a moment as she walked away.
We didn’t sell the bear carving. I still have it today, along with the lesson about charging for quality. My husband eventually etched a small sign with his wood-burning tool and placed it on the table when we set up our market stands. The sign, whose message came out of a book of old cowboy quotes, said this:
“If you want fresh, clean oats, you must pay a fair price. If you can settle for oats that have already been through a horse, those come a little cheaper.”
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