Thursday, December 12, 2002

Communicating With the Living

For weeks I have been running past a dead sheep on the side of the mission road and a deceased skunk on the main highway, trying to decide whether they had any relevance to my existence. I have watched as those once living animals degenerated from whole beings, to parts, to fragments, to who knows what; buckyballs maybe. The animals were weighing on my mind for some unknown reason.

Bluff Cemetary - located in Bluff around Twin Rocks Trading Post.

At this point, their remains bear little resemblance to the ambulatory creatures they once were. As I run by, I notice the seemingly rapid degradation, probably accelerated by the extreme heat, question what impact they have on my life and think, “Well, someday that will be me, although I hope I’m not left on the roadway until the trucks crush me into oblivion.”

I have even noticed that the sheep’s joints are starting to come apart, much as mine appear to be after years of running on pavement in spite of numerous warnings. When the skunk’s scent sack broke and the stench drove me to the other side of the road, all I could come up with was, “Wow, I hope I don’t smell that bad.” Day after day I searched for a larger meaning and found none. Then lightning struck.

Adam and I were standing in the trading post one afternoon when a young Italian couple walked through the door . Adam was working on the web site, and I was doing my Indian trader impersonation. I am actually a very good impersonator, and can do a serviceable job as a janitor, waitress, dishwasher and lawyer. From time to time I have tried my cook routine, which usually gets me promptly and unceremoniously ejected from the cafe.

Over the years, Barry and I have developed our act to include a number of ice breakers. These are basically questions to get customers talking. For me it is a way to avoid the deadly silence common to many trading post shoppers. These ice breakers go something like, “Wow, it sure is hot out there. Are you from a cooler climate?” “Yea, where?” “Oh, is that a small or large town?” “Probably not as small as Bluff!” “Really?” We frequently incorporate a “y’all” or “y’all all” into the questioning so people will think we were from somewhere else. It rarely works.

Although I was not sensible enough to learn any foreign languages when I was in school, I have developed an ear for accents, and can generally identify the person’s country of origin by listening closely. As a result, I knew this couple was from Italy, and asked, “Are you Italian?” The young man gave me a blank look and responded, “No speak English.” I started to say, “That’s okay, my English needs work too,” but held my tongue, since I had already lost him.

After several minutes of silent browsing, the couple turned to leave. As they exited the store, the young woman looked back, waving her hand and said, “Hello.” Adam and I looked at each other and smiled. It was then that I realized what had been bothering me about the animals; my inability to communicate.

The other thing I have been wrestling with for weeks is the death of Stan Johnson, a long time community member. Stan moved to Bluff shortly after I came back to open the trading post. For one reason or another Stan and I had always been on opposite ends of the local political spectrum. For many people in Bluff that’s enough to avoid personal contact altogether. People generally disagree with me, so I don’t let it get in the way. I think Stan understood that, since he and I were always cordial. Whenever I needed a document notarized, I would seek him out and he graciously accommodated me. Afterwards we generally had a small conversation regarding an apolitical subject and off I went.

As I read his obituary, I was struck by how little I knew about Stan. I had heard rumors that he had been a lawyer, a judge and had engaged in many other interesting activities during his life. On the morning of his funeral I was just coming back from my run when I spotted the hearse heading south into town. I remember thinking that someone must have died and that the mortician was on his way to retrieve the body. What I didn’t realize was that Stan was on his way to cemetery hill; the only hill of consequence in Bluff, and the final resting place for its citizens.

Bluff historians have told me that the first grave in Bluff was on the west side of town, near the wash. When the wash flooded and the casket washed downstream, the settlers decided to establish a cemetery on the hilltop.

When the Italian woman said “Hello” as she walked out, I was reminded that I intended to stop and see Stan after he became ill, of my failure to do so, of the dead animals, and the finality of all my missed and failed communications. I promised to improve my communication with the living; before they become buckyballs.

Copyright©2002 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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