By Tom Word
One of the many pleasures of being a
grandparent is watching our grandchildren discover the world and how it
works. And we long to
pass on to them little bits of wisdom we think (perhaps foolishly) that
living long has given us. But
we also hesitate to pontificate too early for fear our grandchildren
will misinterpret our passed-on wisdom and that we will confuse or
misguide them. We
know instinctively that some lessons are best learned by experience,
perhaps experience that stings a little. We all want to protect
our loved ones from pain, but we know that depriving the young of
struggle can ruin them.
As grandparents, we fear that we may die
before we get to pass on bits of wisdom and our deeply felt affection
to our grandchildren. My
friend Luke Weaver hedges his bets by writing letters to his
grandchildren, to be read when they are old enough to understand the
message and profit from it. He
called me yesterday to read one of these letters to his six-year-old
granddaughter Ivy in whom he sees a clone of his daughter Laura in many
The subject of Luke’s letter was the trading tradition of the Weaver family, honed at the cattle barns and mule markets of South Georgia. Among the lessons Luke wanted to pass on was this one:
If you are a seller, don’t price your
goods too low. Sometimes
there are buyers who mistake a high asking price for evidence of value,
or a low asking price for a lack of it. Luke cited the case of
the sale-barn auctioneer who starts his plea for bids too low, then
backs off and demands a much higher bid to get the bidding started. The low ask brings
silence from the bidders bench, but the high one starts a bidder who
mistakes it for evidence of the quality he craves.
Thinking about this quirk of human nature,
Luke recalled Jake Barrett, who long ago broke meat dogs for Bob Lamb. A doctor came to the
kennel to buy a gun dog. Jake
showed him a little white setter female that was sharp as a tack and
priced at $175.
“Well, she’s a nice little dog, but I was
looking to pay more than that,” the doctor said.
Jake took the setter back to the kennel
and let her wallow in a mud puddle, thus altering her appearance. After showing the doctor
a couple of pointer prospects, he took the muddy setter back to show
the doctor and had her point another bird, calling her by a different
name and stating her asking price at $700. The doctor happily paid
it. Whether true or
apocryphal, it’s a good story.
Luke recalled receiving a call years ago
from a doctor wanting to buy a “good big horse.” Luke had one that was
good, but didn’t quite suit him.
He was willing to sell it for $175 (he’d paid $150 a few years
“What are you looking to pay for a horse,“
Luke shrewdly asked the doctor.
“Oh, I’d pay $900 to $1,000 for the right one,” the doctor said. Then he asked Luke if
he’d bring the horse to an airstrip so he could fly his private plane
in to inspect it. Luke
Luke drove the horse to the county
airfield in an open-bed cattle truck.
The doctor got out of his plane, walked to the truck, looked at
the horse briefly, and paid Luke’s $1,000 asking price without even
saddling the horse. He
was in a buying mood and had in mind what he wanted to pay, without a
clue of current market prices.
I recalled an experience in 1955 when I
left the farm for college at age seventeen with two thousand bales of
alfalfa hay in the barn for my widowed mother to sell during the winter. I told her she shouldn’t
take less than 75¢ a bale. At
Christmas, the barn was empty.
She’d gotten $1.50 for every bale. So much for my market
wisdom. Mother knew
how to size up a buyer who drove his truck to the farm, having heard at
the nearby country story that a new widow had a barn full of quality
hay for sale.
Luke ended his note to Ivy:
“Be fair, but hold your own. Don’t price your goods too low. See if you can figure out what the buyer expects to pay before you set your asking price.”