The education process continues; Alyssa and McKale recently cornered me, turned on the charm and hit me up for financial aid. Knowing I am not an easy mark, the girls alertly qualified their request by suggesting they accompany me to Bluff on Saturday and, "Work at the trading post for a fair and equitable wage". This was a rare moment, lately the kids are far too busy to travel to Bluff for a full day's work. I carefully considered the implications of their request, figuring they must have exhausted all other avenues. The quick and easy loan from Mom was apparently not available, and they were now ready to make a deal with the devil himself. To achieve their costly desires they were ready to embrace desperate measures.
Navajo Snake Pictorial Basket by Lorraine Black
Because the Bluff Balloon Festival was on that weekend, and Steve was heavily involved (thus unavailable), I knew I could really use the help. This, and the fact that I love it when my kids come to work, caused me to quickly agree to sponsor them for the day. "What will you have us do?" asked McKale. "We'll find something when we get there!" I said cavalierly. In unison, Alyssa and McKale shook their heads side-to-side and asked me to be more specific. The girls were looking for a clear and concise agreement, they probably wanted it legally binding as well.
Being fairly quick-witted, and used to my habit of playing with words and their meaning, the girls asked what, "Finding something to do!' meant, exactly. "Something in the field of sterilization management with the aid of very light machinery," I said, once again waiving off the question. Alyssa and McKale stopped dead in their tracks, looked at me with raised eyebrows and, "Whadda ya think, we're stupid?" looks. "If that translates into cleaning toilets with a tooth brush, you can count us out!" chirped my eldest daughter. Rats, foiled again!
They had figured me out; I could tell it was time to step-up and take the game of love and logic to the next level. Although it sounds like I was trying to trick my children through deceit and deception, nothing could not be further from the truth; I was simply attempting to educate them to the subtleties of communication. A little less gullibility and a lot more skepticism in today's world may go a long way towards keeping them out of troublesome situations in their formidable futures. A father's duties are many, and I take mine seriously. In my humble opinion, teaching creatively adds humor and hopefully makes life's lessons more stimulating and memorable.
As we drove up to the trading post that morning, we noticed an absence of colorful hot air balloons in the skies of our uniquely charming red rock valley. I told the girls that the stiff breeze we had encountered on our way down the hill from Blanding must have disrupted the launch This meant Steve would be stressed out because Mother Nature had derailed the festivities. The store would also be much busier because people would be looking for alternative pleasures. Alyssa spoke up and said, "Good! I was afraid if it wasn't busy you would have us seeking out and extracting hazardous waste from the local, somewhat delicate environment". "Very Good, young Jedi," I said, "there are always plenty of cigarette butts in the parking lot to keep you busy".
Alyssa and McKale were real troopers that day; they cleaned the glass, courteously waited on customers and shopped the internet for swimming suits, expertly multitasking and easily earning a whopping, minimum wage. The trouble began when Lorraine Black pulled up in her high profile Dodge pickup truck. Lorraine is one of the most gregarious artists you will ever meet, so the minute she walked into the store and saw the girls she was all smiles and laughter, hugging Alyssa and McKale and lamenting how they had such an outlandish father.
McKale readily agreed with Lorraine, and told her of my attempts to trick them into cleaning toilets with a toothbrush. Lorraine laughed heartily and told the girls that if they used my toothbrush, just once, that it would surely nip such nonsense in the bud. She told Alyssa and McKale that the only way she had survived dealing with their Uncle Steve and me through the years was to stay one step ahead of us. I scolded Lorraine for attempting to sabotage my lesson plan, but she ignored me and spoke only with the girls.
Lorraine had brought in a small snake basket and offered to sell it to the girls at a more reasonable rate than she would me because, "She liked them better". She had heard about our "Traders in Training" program, and agreed with the idea of teaching our children to achieve a higher level of understanding and professionalism. Lorraine said she saw a definite need in that regard and wanted to help alleviate the deficit. All I could do was shake my head sadly and realize that I had brought this on myself in more ways than one.
Attempting to regroup, I told Lorraine that if she was going to sell the basket to Alyssa and McKale, she was obliged to explain its cultural significance. Lorraine turned back to the girls and spoke to them candidly about how many Navajo people have criticized her for placing such a powerful image in her weavings. She explained that her critics focus on the negative implications of Snake, rather than the positive. Lorraine told the girls this was a basic human tendency, and that they would certainly encounter such criticism in their own lives for being creative and unique. She told them that if they believed in what they were doing strongly enough, and were passionate about it, they would have to show conviction and be true to their causes to be successful.
McKale, Lorraine Black & Alyssa Simpson
Lorraine told the girls that Snake has an undying spirit, is extremely loyal to its loved ones, is tenacious in service and is looked upon as a powerful guardian figure. This sometimes criticized artist said that was why she sought the allegiance of Snake through her weavings and was also why she was determined to pattern her life after it. Observing Lorraine and her interaction with my daughters, I realized we are all extremely lucky to live in this place among the rocks. Although we live at a time when historical cultures cling desperately to the precipice of extinction, we still have the opportunity to learn and grow from simple but effective tales of harmony and balance.
An image as seemingly inconsequential as a snake, and a thoughtful artist straddling the fence separating her radically different worlds of the past and present, educate us to life ways as effective today as they were hundreds of years ago. Time moves on, cultures fade or evolve and people change. The older I become, the more meaningful the term "assimilate or die" becomes. It makes me sad when I think about how tenuous this lifestyle we lead really is. I am, however, determined to enjoy it as long as I can and be grateful for the opportunity to share it with my children.
With warm regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.
Copyright 2007 Twin Rocks Trading Post