Thursday, May 27, 2004

Rocks On Your Head

"You really don't have to buy this rug if you don't want to!" commented Edith Martin while she was showing Steve and I her weaving the other day. I looked up at her with questioning eyes and asked her why she would say such a thing. She pursed her lips in Steve's direction and said, "He doesn't seem too interested." I looked at Steve sitting on the tall stool behind the counter and noticed that he seemed a bit distracted; I realized that he had been all morning. "Be assured, Edith, we love your rugs; no one in this area of the rez is weaving such nice small rugs; yours are the best!" I told her that nothing would make us happier than an eight foot stack of her rugs, giving Steve a nudge with my foot. Steve roused himself a bit, looked at us and said, "That's right! Nothing would make us happier!" He then drifted back off to his special place and left us there looking oddly in his direction.

Shaking my head, I shrugged, rolled my eyes at Edith and wrapped up our deal, thanking her for her patience and understanding. I came around the counter and opened the heavy, wood trading post door for her and walked Edith to her truck. I told Edith that Steve was simply lost in thought and that it had nothing to do with her. I also told her that Steve and I agreed that there were very few Navajo rug weavers that put the time and conscientious effort into their work that she did. As we spoke I was fishing around in the gravel for three smooth flat rocks approximately the size and shape of a checkers game piece. Now Edith was eyeing me strangely and, her confusion apparent, she climbed into the passenger seat of her pick-up truck and let her husband know that it was time to leave. I watched humorously as an animated retelling of what had just happened inside "the nut house" was relayed to her spouse as they departed.

River rocks

River rocks

When we were small children growing up in and around the tiny backwater known as Bluff we picked up a few bad habits. These "situations" provided our parents with interesting problem solving skills. One such issue developed when Craig, Steve, and I somehow began having small "rock fights" with neighboring kids. Of course they developed into full scale "rock wars" in no time whatsoever. The Simpson boys became the undisputed city champions. Craig had an arm like a rocket launcher and could consistently place a fifteen inch group at one hundred yards. I had a fairly decent mid range and good accuracy while Steve could pelt an opponent with a shotgun blast from either hand up close and personal. We proved a cohesive, unbeatable team when challenged and soon became legendary (or infamous) with the local population. The problem was that a well placed stone can leave a mark. We soon had an irate mob of parents beating down our front door.

Our parents took measures such as lectures forbidding us to touch a rock for the next one hundred years, grounding us by means of ball and chain and even a healthy "whippin'" when things really got out of hand. We wanted to quit, we really did, but when young boys are challenged to defend their honor there are no other options. On one such title defense a particularly sneaky kid got in close enough to crack Steve on the skull with a good size projectile that opened up a wound and caused blood to flow. Retribution was swift and extremely painful for the offensive character but the damage had been done. We disposed of any remaining opposition and grudgingly trudged home knowing we were in for some real trouble. As we slouched into the yard mom caught sight of us, and as mothers often do, knew exactly what had been going on. She took one look at Steve's bloodied brow and exploded into action.

I still don't know if she had planned the scenario but I doubt it. Before we could react she had a hand full of rocks and was sustaining more damage than we had ever experienced before. We scattered and headed up the street at a high rate of speed. We soon learned where we had inherited our abilities because we didn't get out of range for a good two hundred yards. We waited until dark to attempt a pain wracked re-entry into the house. There we found Mom and Dad sitting at the kitchen table with a pile of good throwing rocks between them. They had decided to take drastic measures. The message was "since this is the only language you understand we will communicate with you in this way from now on". Steve was hauled off to the bathroom for clean up; he still maintains a scarful reminder of that day on the left side of his forehead.

Mom must have dumped that pile of rocks into her handbag because from that day forth whenever we were disrespectful or out of control we could expect to feel the sharp edge of a rock invade our space. We quickly learned our lesson and retired from street wars; we found it easier to endure the taunts of our peer group than face Rose's throwing arm. Mom, however, had found a perfectly useful tool in managing her raucous boys; it didn't take long before she could ring your bell with one of those hand selected skippers with practiced regularity. She continued to use it for many years. After a point all she would need to do was rattle those rocks in her hand and every one of us within earshot would "duck and cover" and refrain from further mayhem. I am fairly certain that our mother still carries three smooth flat rocks approximately the same size and shape of a checkers game piece.

As I stood watching Edith and her husband depart, those past experiences flowed through my mind and brought a fond smile to my face. I bounded up the steps of the trading post and slowly opened the front door and stepped inside. It was calm and peaceful inside the store as I stood in the shadows. As I had hoped Steve was where Edith and I had left him still deeply embedded in thought. He sat there unmoving, concentrating on whatever it is trading post lawyers worry about. I stood there for a moment and let the quiet set in then quickly dropped my right hand and audibly rattled those small stones. The sound reverberated through the store and Steve reacted instantly. The stool he had so recently rested on blew backwards and crashed into the cabinets behind it. Steve took evasive maneuvers and disappeared behind the counter in a swift, fluid movement. His head was the first thing to reappear and the look upon his face was not favorable. I could see the realization set in that he had just been a victim of his past and that I had provoked it. I provided Steve with the most humble and innocent look I could summon, hid those devilish stones and looked upon his predicament with amazement.
Rina and Natalie appeared at the door of the IT room wondering, I am sure, who had had the last laugh this time. Steve regained his footing and strode off to his office rubbing his scar and cursing my existence. He slammed his door shut and remained secluded for the rest of the day. I tried to explain what had happened to the girls but they just didn't have the background to get the joke. All that I could get across was that ancient Pavlovian responses not only remain buried in our brains but they emerge at the most inopportune moments. They too shook their heads and disappeared back to their computers leaving me alone to appreciate my own twisted sense of humor and the warm fuzzy feeling it provided.

OK! All right! I have been intimidated by my two brothers into admitting that this story is not wholly true. They claim that I cannot be fully healed until I publicly admit that my grasp on reality is tenuous at best. These two, rock toting, totally honest individuals claim that if I were to unravel the few strands of truth from the fabric of my tale, all that would remain would be a twisted, knotted ball of yarn. So I openly admit my indiscretion and withdraw my inaccurate comments...... Steve really did scream like a girl!

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Working the Kids

Kira and Grange Simpson in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post

Grange and Kira in front of Twin Rocks Trading Post

This morning I woke to the sound of rain on the tin roof of the house above the trading post. I had been out of town most of the last week, and the travel fatigue combined with the rain drops made me a little melancholy. I began thinking how fortunate I was to have somebody like Barry to work with. I have been traveling a lot over the last year, and Barry has had to pick up the slack. Aside from his occasional forays into fictional works on rock throwing adventures, I have been relieved that he has cheerfully sent me on my way each time, and welcomed me back with tales of how well things have gone in my absence. Once in a while he even suggests that I stay gone longer or more often.

As I stood looking out the window, surveying the town and watching the rain turn to snow, my mind wondered back over three decades; to a time when Barry, Craig and I ran a small filling station on the south side of Blanding. Duke had leased the station, and “Duke’s boys” ran the operation after school and on weekends.

The rainy snow reminded me of a certain customer who always came into the gas station during the worst storms and asked to have $2.00 worth of regular put in his tank; never more, and sometimes less. I initially thought this was a conspiracy to get me as wet and miserable as possible, but came to realize that the man worked exceptionally hard to support his large family, and rarely had more than $2.00 to keep his old truck on the road. The issue of coming in only during storms was obviously a matter of my overly active imagination, since storms are somewhat rare in this high desert climate.

For me, it was a time of great learning and many mistakes. I distinctly remember one incident when I was about eight years old, and just starting out in my career as a filling station attendant. A car pulled up, and when I walked out to the pumps the driver directed me to put in, “a couple bucks worth of premium.” Since I had no idea what comprised a “couple bucks,” and was too shy to ask, I just guessed that it meant four. That seemed like a nice round number which most people could get along with.

When I was handed only two dollars, I just stood there with the bills in my hand as the car pulled away, wondering what my partners would say when I explained to them why I was $2.00 short that shift. I am not ashamed to admit that over the years there have been other errors that have cost a lot more than $2.00. From that day forward, I have, however, always remembered that a “couple” means two; no more, no less.

That was a time before self service and convenience stores, so Barry, Craig and I went out and pumped every gallon, checked the oil and cleaned the windshield of each car that arrived. It was also a time before canopies over gas pumps, at least in this part of the country, so when it actually did rain or snow, we got wet. I won’t mention not having shoes to work in during the extremely harsh winters, since that may also be my imagination.

As I considered my youthful work experiences, I began to also think about our children, and how they were beginning to show some interest in the trading post business. At this point, their primary concern is how to gin up enough money to buy a candy bar or a pack of gum, but they are showing a little promise.

Kira has developed a real talent for language, loves reading comedy and often creates her own jokes. My favorite so far is, “What sings Blue Suede Shoes and wrestles?” The answer is, of course - Elvis Wrestley! Don’t ask me how she knows about Elvis or Blue Suede Shoes, she just does.

Her jokes are so funny, I recently began to think it might be interesting to have Kira write and illustrate jokes for our internet site. I mentioned my idea to her, and she seemed interested. The negotiations began in earnest, and a deal was eventually inked. It was decided that she would write and illustrate one joke a week. The discussions became a little strained when she contended that she should receive $5.00 a week, since it was such hard work. Five dollars seemed a little too much for a seven year old to manage, so we settled on $3.00 per joke and a savings plan. Kira has decided that her feature will be called Kira’s Comedy Sketch, and should be permanently and prominently featured on the site. I think she has already learned a lot about the art of negotiation and deal making. I know I have.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Economic Pioneers

Bluff, this beautiful little economically challenged town on the northern border of the Navajo Reservation has been my home on and off since I entered this world in the fall of 1959. As a young man, I roamed the washes, climbed the cliffs and hurled dirt clods at the other children without a care for economics. Of course, there was the occasional need for a quarter or two to satisfy my desire for candy and red pop, but for the most part, money was not a consideration. On occasion Craig, Barry and I were able to sneak into Roy Pearson’s work shop and pinch a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, thereby further alleviating the need for cash. We never needed coins jingling in our pockets to feel like kings.

I did, however, notice that the Navajo women of my early childhood were regal in their blouses adorned with silver dimes, quarters and the occasional fifty cent piece. Although I knew those coins could buy me enough candy and pop to make me hurl something besides dirt clods, I don’t remember ever wanting to relieve the Navajo ladies of their adornments. I must have felt the coins served a higher purpose accenting the velveteen than they would purchasing soda pop.

When I returned to this pink sandstone paradise in 1989, money was more of a concern. I had left my job in Sacramento, California at the age of 30, and was beginning to feel that I may have missed my financial QE II. In fact, I began to wonder whether I had bought a ticket on the Titanic; my future appeared to be taking on water.

Fourteen years later, something arrived on my desk that has made me begin to reconsider my financial disability. No, it wasn’t the death of a rich uncle leaving me a cornucopia of cash; all my uncles are already gone, with never the hint of inheritance. The thing that has made me begin to reconsider my conclusions was a book; a thesis actually.

Generally, Barry avoids the chaos of my office unless there are serious matters to be discussed. There he was, however, peeking around the door frame, with a green rectangular thing in his hand. “What’s that?” I asked, in my most congenial voice, since he seemed to hold the object in great regard. “A book!” he said. “I know that,” said I, “but what kind of book?” He handed me the explanatory note that had come with the treasure.

The note indicated that Kay was sending us a copy of her son’s master’s thesis, entitled Jens Nielson, Bishop of Bluff, because she thought we might enjoy reading it. “Oh,” I said, still trying to sound pleasant, “let me see.” I am sure Barry thought I would immediately return it since I had obviously fooled him with my kindness, but he has been sadly disappointed; I have kept it and been carefully studying its contents ever since. He now worries that he may never get it back.

As indicated by its title, the thesis focuses on Mormon Bishop Jens Nielson. The background and history relating to the colonization and development of Bluff is, however, what has captured my attention. The book details the problems our early settlers had just getting to this location, not to mention the problems associated with taming the San Juan River, raising crops and dealing with the local tribes. The thesis describes Bluff as “the back eddy of empires”, and quotes Parley Butt, one of the early pioneers as saying, “When God finished makin’ the world he had a lot of rocks left over an’ he threw them down here in a pile in Utah.” Those two statements accurately describe our little town.

As the pioneers attempted to gain a foothold in this difficult land, the river frequently destroyed their hopes for an abundant crop. The wind blew red dust into every crack and crevice of their log homes, covering the settlers and their belongings with a continuous film. Skirmishes between the Mormon pioneers and the Navajo, Ute and Paiute people sometimes turned deadly. The settlers also thought their economic ship would never arrive, but through hard work, faith and perseverance, they eventually succeeded.

Although we have always survived the raiding parties of our contemporary Navajo basket and rug weaving adversaries, Barry and I know we are in for a scalping when the Holidays, Blacks or Rocks arrive at the trading post. Generally, the skirmishes involve lots of comparisons, protestations and haggling; sometimes even coin tossing and arm wrestling, but when we are done everyone is still healthy and generally happy. The weavers almost always come out more healthy and happy than Barry and I, but we have become accustomed to that result.

Steve Simpson with an artist at Twin Rocks Trading Post

The pioneers believed there was a higher purpose to their settlement of Bluff, so do Barry and I; we just don’t yet know what it is.

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Thursday, May 6, 2004

Fathers and Sons

"Why is it so hard for you to communicate with your Father?" My mother has put that question to me more times than I care to recall. My usual, thoughtless response is, "Because the man has such a tenuous grasp on reality!" This glib retort has often resulted in a painful, swollen knot on my exceptionally thick skull, put there by the woman who brought me into this world. For some reason, I find my mother quite easy to understand and get along with. My father, however, is another matter, and my efforts at amiable conversation often go awry. Our conversations generally start amicably enough, but the next thing I know, we are critiquing each other's lack of manners and wondering if the other would be better suited to the primate lock-up at the San Diego Zoo. Congenial exchanges of ideas seem next to impossible, and I am confused and upset by the whole predicament.

I am not totally ignorant when it comes to the cause of this situation; I have read studies in such renowned periodicals as Readers Digest, Good Housekeeping and Men's Health. I have even forcefully digested Psychology for Dummies, a modern guide to relationships between fathers and sons. These publications speak of developing compassionate, caring, loving relationships with dear old Dad, and working toward understanding what makes him tick, or why you have developed a tick because of him. I must also learn to appreciate his uniqueness and tune in to how he expresses his love for his children. This is sound advice; I can understand the common sense these articles provide, and their logical approach to regaining common ground.

I can't blame the problem on a bad childhood, or contrary parents that didn't care about how their kids turned out; our parents were great! I can honestly say that I always knew that I was loved in our home. My father made the effort to teach my siblings and me everything he could in a thoughtful and precise manner. He was not afraid to admit that he was not up to snuff on a particular subject. Dad would either educate himself through "book learnin'" or bring in a recognized expert to fill in the blanks. You would think that a man with only an eighth grade education would be limited in what he could pass on to his kids. Not true with my father, he studied books on science, math and spelling on our kitchen table to further his knowledge. We knew, without a doubt, that education was an important issue to both our parents.

When I graduated high school and decided that college was not for me, Dad was disappointed to be sure. He barely skipped a beat before sitting me down and stressing continuing education through all other available avenues. He then brought me, full time, into the family business and began to teach me the art of managing a trading post "by the seat of your pants". It wasn't long before Steve returned from law school, with three degrees in his back pocket and a highly developed opinion concerning business management, among other things By then I had earned my first (unofficial) degree in small business management and tradingpostology from Professor Duke. Since opinionated characters are common in our family, it took Steve and me a while to amend our philosophies and work together. That, however, is another story altogether.

I recently found myself in a nose to nose stand off with my own son, Spenser, concerning a matter we had differing opinions on. I was about to emphasize my point of view when my wife stepped between us and deflected my assault. As she backed me up against the kitchen sink, I found myself in another nose to nose stand off. I usually find this situation quite stimulating, but somehow this time was different. "Why is it so hard for you to communicate with your son?" she asked in a tone demanding an immediate and thoughtful answer. A number of smart retorts flashed through my mind, but the look in her eye caused me to hesitate. All that I could say was, "I don't know!" "Well maybe you should figure it out; you have the same problem with your father," she said.

After much soul searching and thoughtful meditation, I realize that only I can make amends, and diffuse future problematic situations. I know for a fact that I do not want to continue down the same antagonistic path Dad and I are traveling. And, I am adamant about maintaining good relations with my own son. I find the thought of a poor relationship with Spenser too heartbreaking to bear and can now see how my father must feel. I may have to refocus this repressed energy in a new direction though; I am sure that it is unhealthy to hold the nastiness inside. I think Steve may be ready for the next level in his trading post training. I guess that it wouldn't hurt to step up the pace and present a more aggressive lesson plan. He's a hard head anyway!

Copyright©2004 Twin Rocks Trading Post