Thursday, November 30, 2006

Wanda and the Fish Necklaces

When Blue Mountain Trading Post opened in 1976, the Simpson family was still relatively naive about Indian trading. For a few years prior to that, we had been selling Navajo turquoise and silver jewelry in the small filling station we ran just south of Blanding and from our mobile home, which was located immediately behind the business. When we began leasing the service station, we had about $200.00 in cash and owed $200.00, so we were essentially bankrupt. As Duke explained it at the time, “We were broke flatter than a popcorn fart.”

The Fisherman
Barry, Duke & Steve Simpson @ Twin Rocks Trading Post

As children, we never really knew how difficult the financial situation was. Duke made sure there was food on the table, and Rose was relentless when it came to keeping us properly scrubbed and dressed. Rose would remind us that we had to keep ourselves clean and neat, even if we had only one shirt and one pair of trousers. It was, however, never that bad; Levi's, sneakers and freshly pressed shirts were in adequate supply.

When we needed a quarter for swimming or a half-dollar to see a movie, Duke would put us to work, to, “teach us the value of money.” After inquiring into the specifics of the request, he would say something like, “Okay, my work boots need to be oiled.” By the time we retrieved his shoes, the necessary coins would be rattling around inside.

At the service station, Duke and Rose were constantly searching for new ways to supplement their modest revenue stream. Candy, chips and soda pop were clearly not the solution, because no matter how hard they tried, Duke and Rose could not stop the leakage. If they interrogated Craig, Barry and me about the missing inventory, we never had a satisfactory explanation.

When Duke hit on the idea of selling turquoise and silver jewelry, he must have though it was a masterstroke. Craig, Barry and I could not eat or drink it, and we surely would not think of pawning the bracelets, rings and necklaces for a little quick cash at Hunt’s, the local trading post and pawnshop. Craig and Barry were slow learners, and I was too young to be that innovative; consequently Duke’s cash flow improved.

As time went on and our sales increased, Duke realized he had to begin traveling a little to supplement the local supply. Eventually he found his way to Running Bear in Gallup, New Mexico, where, in addition to Navajo jewelry, he might find Zuni and Hopi artwork. There, he could select from a wide variety of handmade items for a modest premium over their original cost.

In the early part of his hunting and gathering explorations, Duke liked to go by himself. When he returned with his treasures, we would often scratch our heads in wonder, inquiring what had motivated him to buy certain things. “Why did you buy that?” we would ask in thinly veiled disgust. He would just smile and say, “Don’t worry, it will sell.”

One day Barry and I had a day off from school, so we put the bite on Duke to take us with him. Rose supported the request, so Barry and I piled into the truck, placed our noses firmly against the windshield and headed south with Duke. When we arrived at Running Bear, we were a bit surprised by what we found. Jerry, the proprietor, was just getting started, so his business consisted of an extremely small storefront with an approximately twelve by twelve foot vault. The vault was stacked from floor to ceiling with rings, necklaces, bracelets, fetishes and other types of Native American jewelry.

It was not the art, however, that captured our attention. Manning the vault was Wanda, the most buxom, vivacious woman Barry and I had ever met. To say she stopped our hearts would be an understatement; she absolutely enchanted us.

As Barry and I stood transfixed by Wanda’s wild beauty, our hearts thumping in our chests, Wanda began taking things from the shelves to show Duke. Casually, Duke would say, “Yes, that looks good. We’ll take it.” Then, smooth as silk, Wanda reached over and pulled two fish necklaces from the wall and, draping them diagonally across her chest, said to Duke, “Aren’t these lovely?”

I did not have the strength to object, and, looking sidelong at my stricken sibling, I could see Barry was in no shape to help. “Yes, we’ll take those too,” Duke said. Jerry just stood next to Wanda, smiling and knowingly nodding his head. These were obviously not the first fish necklaces they had unloaded.

When we got home, Rose began inspecting the purchases. Holding up the fish, she inquired, “Why did you buy these?” Barry and I just smiled and said, “Oh, don’t worry, they’ll sell.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2006 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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