Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Don't Kick My Sheep

As I have grown older, and the gray hair has begun to overwhelm the black, I have become less inhibited in conversations with trading post customers. The cause may be early onset Alzheimer's, or I may have simply inherited the Duke gene. Whatever the cause, as a result of my affliction, I frequently have to remind Barry, Priscilla and Jana that I cannot help myself, or be held accountable for my actions. They have all started to wonder whether gene therapy is in order. The effected segment of my genome has not, however, been identified, so there is little hope of a near term solution.

Duke & Rose Simpson
Duke & Rose Simpson

For years, Barry and I would stand back in silence as Duke talked to trading post patrons in such a frank manner that we thought they would turn and walk away. Much to our surprise, those on the other side of the counter usually enjoyed the banter and left smiling; pleased with their experience.

As my malady progresses, Barry works hard to intervene when he notices me gearing up for one of my bouts. With his recent eye surgery, however, he is usually unable to correctly read the signs, and I am often too far down the path before he can intercede. So it was recently when two young hooligans came in with their obviously weary mother. “Where is the bathroom?” she inquired in a beleaguered voice. Pointing her to the west side of the trading post, I gave her an understanding wink.

Since she was afraid to leave one or the other unattended, the frazzled mom and her two miscreants entered the lavatory together, and raised such a raucous I thought the stall would surely be destroyed. As she lead them to the exit with an exasperated, “Thank you,” one of the belligerents kicked at a Ruby Growlier folk art sheep and connected right under its chin.

“Hey, don’t you kick my sheep,” I said. The little antagonist turned and gave me a smirk. “Bring that boy over here.” I said to his mother, “I’ll give him a spanking’ he’ll remember.” Since they know I have, on numerous occasions, been instructed in the perils of spanking children, my companions in the trading post universally froze. Becoming a little defensive, I announced, “I was regularly spanked when I was a child, and look how well I turned out.” A collective groan arose from the trading post staff.

Ruby Growler Smith
Navajo Folk Artist Ruby Growler

The besieged mom, apparently understanding better than anyone else, wheeled the boy around and headed him in my direction. “No,” he yowled, and instantly dropped to the floor. “You need to take better care of your mother,” I directed, and he readily agreed; probably thinking he had fooled us all, but walking out the door a little more subdued than he had previously been.

Having seen how protective I was of the sheep, and the abused parent, a couple that had witnessed the entire incident strode over to inspect the damage. Noticing nothing amiss, they indicated interest in the ram, and asked about the price. Trying to ease the somewhat tense mood, I launched into my favorite sheep joke, which goes like this:

An old Navajo man was tending his vast flock beside the road in Monument Valley, when a large car pulled up nearby and stopped. Out clamored a rumpled man, who said to the shepherd, “If I can guess the exact number of sheep in your herd, will you give me one?” After considering the question for a time, the Navajo man agreed to the proposition.

As the sheep milled about, making them virtually impossible to count, the driver declared, “There are exactly 1,252.” The Navajo man, extremely surprised that the figure was spot on, said, “That’s right, which sheep would you like?” “That one,” directed the rumpled man, indicating a black and white member of the herd. The Navajo man walked over, picked up the animal and delivered it into the arms of the waiting man.

As the man strode toward the car with his newly won prize, the shepherd inquired in a very serious tone, “Excuse me. If I can guess where you went to college, will you return my sheep?”

“Why sure,” said the rumpled man, confident he would retain his winnings. “Harvard University,” said the Navajo man in a confident voice. “Right,” said the extremely surprised driver, “but how did you know?”

“You picked my dog,” said the shepherd.

“We’ll take it,” the couple declared in unison. As the transaction was processed and Barry wrapped the sheep for transport, the man reached inside his wallet, extracted a business card and handed it to me. My face flushed as I read the information, “Samuel Cruz, Professor of Art and Design - Harvard University.”

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

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