Thursday, December 1, 2005

A Few Stones Short of a Full Cluster

Navajo Brooch

Once in a while Barry and I have visitors to the trading post who say something like, "Wow, I am glad I finally caught you open. I have been here several times and you are always closed." Since our official hours for most of the year are 8:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., seven days a week, and Barry and I are usually here early and late, I always wonder how these people consistently arrive when we are closed.

During the winter, traffic through the store slows dramatically, so in late October we begin closing Sundays. Last Sunday, I was out washing the car when Nellie Tsosie drove up in a large Dodge truck pulling a horse trailer. Nellie is the purveyor of Natural Pinon Cream; that magical, mystical stuff Duke and Barry maintain will cure any ailment and make you younger, smarter and sexier. Duke tells everybody that all it takes to turn your life around is a little dab on your toast each morning. From time to time it is clear our patrons are wondering whether it is worth a try. When that happens, I am required to give the customer a wink and explain that Duke is really just joking; the bread is not necessary.

As I scrubbed the long neglected car, Nellie strode up the front steps and crashed into the locked door. After coming to an abrupt stop, she looked at me and asked, "Closed?" "Yep," I explained. "Why?," she wanted to know. "Because, after taking advantage of the Navajo people all week, I need to go to church and ask for forgiveness," I said. She cautiously bobbed her head, unsure whether I was serious or not and certainly not wanting to do anything that might prejudice her chances of nailing down a sale. "Well, Grandpa always told me that the white traders who take the whole package go crazy when they get to be 55 or 60," she said. "In fact, the one down home did go crazy and move to Mancos. You just can't always take the whole package," she continued.

"Where's my buddy, Barry," she wanted to know. "Also gone to church. He needs more help than I," I laughed. Again she knowingly bobbed her head. She was working hard to get me to unlock the trading post and the checkbook. "You know how Grandma is, she always wants you to give her something extra, even after the deal is done," Nellie said. "Yes, I know, that's why I will never go crazy and will go straight to heaven when I die. You guys always get the best of me." She laughed out loud, knowing I was right.

All the Navajo people around here understand that I am an easy mark, so once the deal is negotiated, they ask for a set of earrings, a ring, a pin or a few dollars for gas. Nellie's explanation made me feel a little better, because I have always felt the reason for their requests was that they knew I am a sucker for a sad face or a good story. I now realized it is simply a matter of tradition.

Lorraine Black, for example, told us several years ago that during her latest healing ceremony, the medicine man had instructed her to get a piece of turquoise whenever she sold us baskets. If she did not, he cautioned, she would surely become gravely ill. So, for several months she insisted on receiving a nice pair of earrings to go with her check. At some point, I decided I could not stand the additional financial strain and suggested I just give her a simple, undistinguished turquoise stone. "No way," she said. "I need some new earrings." That was when I knew for certain I had been led down the garden path. When she realized the game was up, she just laughed and went on her way; happy in the knowledge that her scheme had worked for quite awhile.

I reminded Nellie that indeed her mother, Cecelia, had been getting the best of me for a long time. About seven years ago, Cecelia had wanted one of my rugs. She had a customer who needed a storm pattern weaving and did not have time to make it. So we made a deal, Cecelia would leave her squashblossom necklace with me until she was paid for the rug. When she received payment from her customer, she would redeem her jewelry. A few months later she wanted to swap the necklace for a brooch that, like most of the people here at the trading post, was a few stones short of a full cluster. I let her take the necklace and put her pin in the safe. Every month or so for the past seven years Cecelia has stopped by to assure me she will come for the brooch and that I must not give up and sell it. During each visit, I go to the safe, pull out the by now well worn paper sack containing her jewel, and show it to her. After being reassured that our arrangement is unchanged, she happily climbs back in the truck and heads home.

Nellie, being the focused type, patiently listened to my story about her mother and said, "So, do you need any cream." "I can't buy on Sunday, it's my day off and I won't get the redemption I need if I take advantage of you today," I said. "Oh, okay," she replied and began to walk back to the truck. "By the way, that's a nice T-shirt, do you want to trade," she asked. "No thanks, you are trying to get too much of my package," I laughed "By the way, did Grandpa say you will go crazy if you keep taking advantage of the white traders," I asked. "No. It doesn't work that way," she responded. I bobbed my head knowingly.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2005 Twin Rocks Trading Post

No comments: