Monday, July 25, 2011

The Unframed Picture

While we were sightseeing in Quebec City, we visited the Rue du Tresor, the narrow pedestrian street where the local artists displayed and sold their works.  As I’ve never been artistically inclined, very little of this material interested me.  My sons felt likewise.  They liked trains and wanted only to hurry across town to the Gare du Palais to watch the Montreal express.  But the girls wanted to examine the art works and chat with the artists, and so we had to compromise.  My sons and I would watch the train leave for Montreal, but after it had gone we must rejoin the girls in the artists’ neighborhood.

On our return a while later, the unexpected happened.  I wanted only to reunite the family and then leave the Rue du Tresor before any of us could spend money there, and so I made every effort to move the family along.  Then a painting caught my eye.  What an unlikely occurrence!  Of the thousand and more pictures on display in this street, all of them jammed together to maximize use of the limited space, one picture in this overcrowded mass of color stood out and caught and held my attention.  It was a picture of a ship.

Specifically, it was a painting of the schooner Bluenose II, a modern-day replica of the famous fishing vessel Bluenose whose likeness has for many years graced the reverse side of the Canadian dime.  We once had the pleasure of going aboard and touring the Bluenose II when she was docked in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, not far from the pier that had housed the Furman.  This painting portrayed the Bluenose II not in Portsmouth but under sail on the Saint Lawrence River with the Chateau Frontenac sitting high on the hill above and behind her.  Two historic national institutions portrayed in minute detail with the deep blue water as a base and the lighter blue sky as a canopy, with the rising riverbank and secondary city buildings filling out the remainder of the scene—it was a very colorful and dramatic masterpiece, a truly magnificent work of art.  I could not stop staring at it.  I actually thought of buying it, but quickly dismissed the impulse.  We were on a tight budget, after all, and I had not included the purchasing of art works in my financial plans.

Then Miss Patty caught me looking at this painting.  She insisted that we buy it since I liked it so much.  I objected to the expense, even though it was offered at a bargain price.  It cost ten dollars in Canadian money, which at the time equaled seven dollars in American money.  Surely we could spare that, Miss Patty implored.  She would even skip dinner that night and breakfast the next morning to pay for it.  I appreciated the nobility of her self-sacrifice, but still hesitated.  Finally, she exercised her prerogative as the smarter of the two of us and overrode my objections and hesitations.  We bought the painting.

Since this picture had such a compelling quality, I naturally wanted to get it professionally framed and then hang it up on permanent display after we had brought it home.  The framing would cost much more than the picture itself, of course, and so I thought that I would slowly set some money aside for it.  I found it difficult to justify spending more money on myself, though.  It just didn’t feel right.  Spending money on the children didn’t bother me, nor did spending money on something for the whole family.  Besides that, there were more pressing expenses, important needs as opposed to mere wants.  There were car repairs, property tax increases, record gasoline prices, medical bills, my oldest son’s mission, my younger sons’ Eagle projects, and the house needed a new roof.  All legitimate expenses, they elbowed picture framing onto the back burner and held it there.

I put my painting of the Bluenose II away in a safe place where it would lie flat and be protected from dust.  On several occasions I took it out to admire it.  Each time I did this I made a tentative plan to get it framed as soon as a few more pressing expenses were taken care of.  Then I noticed a pattern emerging.  With four children to feed, clothe, house, educate, and medicate, there were always additional pressing expenses coming along to replace the ones just taken care of.  Every expense involving children’s needs or general family benefit was more important than framing the Bluenose II.  To move this comparatively insignificant mere want up on the priority list ahead of the children’s needs or ahead of something not essential but at least beneficial to the whole family seemed unconscionably selfish.  Framing the Bluenose II would just have to wait.

And it did.  Five years passed, and the picture remained in its safe place, unframed.  My oldest son started at Brigham Young University, served a mission, and returned to BYU.  My daughter studied two years at BYU and then went on a mission.  My younger sons completed their projects and became Eagle Scouts.  Our two cars, both fifteen years old and needing repairs, have kept going.  Both have gone over 100,000 miles; one has gone over 200,000 miles.  Also, the new roof was installed.  It came with a 30 year guarantee; I should never have to worry about it again.

With my medical history, I’m fortunate to have children at all.  Therefore, it is a blessing for me to be able to sacrifice framing the Bluenose II—and numerous other things as well—for the greater good of meeting their needs and teaching them values.  We believe that “sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven.”1  It’s true.  These blessings have included four children learning financial responsibility, material preparedness, the value of education, the importance of attaining Eagle rank and serving a mission, and the necessity of meeting others’ needs before indulging one’s own wants.  On the subject of people’s sacrifices the Lord has promised us, “I will cause them to bring forth as a very fruitful tree which is planted in a goodly land, by a pure stream, that yieldeth much precious fruit” (D&C 97:9).  The benefits to my family are that precious fruit.

The unframed picture of the Bluenose II, a beautiful painting of a beautiful and famous ship, stands as but one small example of the many sacrifices that conscientious parents must make for the benefit of their children.  It calls to mind the Lord’s admonition to those who bear responsibility for others: “if any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35).  It has been an honor to be both head of the family and servant to the family for all these years.

1 William W. Phelps, “Praise to the Man,” in Hymns of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1985.

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