Friday, September 12, 2008
Tradiology - For the Love of People
Navajo First Woman Pictorial Basket by Elsie Holiday
Not long ago, Kathy asked me to help load a crate onto the soon-to-arrive motor freight carrier. Kathy has developed a skill for making modern-day petroglyphs using sandstone slabs and an electric pencil, and her art adorns several homes and businesses across the country. When I accepted the invitation, little did I know that Kathy had a word or two in her vocabulary I had not previously heard.
In this particular case she had sold a large, and heavy, specimen to a structural engineer and his wife. According to Kathy, the couple intended to mount the piece over their fireplace. As Craig, Kathy and I grunted and groaned the 275-pound specially built crate onto the truck, Kathy began explaining what the gentleman’s wife did for a living. “She’s a ped. . ., a pid, a . . . a pediologist.” “A podiatrist? A proctologist? A pharmacist?” I questioned. No, you know, a baby doctor.” I laughed so hard the crate almost did not make it out of the parking lot.
Kathy’s creative terminology started me thinking not only about pediatricians, but also about what it means to be an Indian trader; a tradiologist. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary defines a tradiologist as, “1: one engaged in the profession of tradiology 2: one with an exceptional interest in people.”
A distinction must be made between historic and contemporary traders. The old-time traders were a special breed, and there are not many remaining. They often left their comfortable homes for lonely, underpopulated and isolated outposts to set up shop in unknown and inhospitable environments. They were required to build relationships, both personal and professional, with people who were not always pleased with their incursions into traditional areas. Come to think of it, maybe no distinction needs to be made; some things never change, and Barry and I have similar stories about isolation and restless natives. Bluff is the perfect example, except that the restless natives are not usually Native.
Navajo Weaver Elsie Holiday
It is the second part of Webster’s definition, however, that defines why I am engaged in tradionomy; I love and am fascinated by people. I have heard countless individuals exclaim, “Retail . . ., oh, I don’t know how you do it!” For me, the trading post is like standing at the edge of a smorgasbord with a bounty of previously unknown treats spread before you; you simply never know what will happen when you dig in. Once in a while you get a sour morsel, but overwhelmingly the flavor is extraordinary. Being at the trading post is better than Dairy Queen, A&W or Baskin Robbins; there are millions of flavors, and each is unique.
Last Wednesday, Elsie Holiday stopped by with her latest basket. Being concerned about the state of the U.S. economy in general and trading post economics specifically, which affect her personal economics directly, she had been here a few days before to ensure we were still buying baskets. “Of course,” I assured her, “we can always figure out something. We always have.” Barry is convinced I am addicted to Elsie’s basketry, and at times has suggested detox. Although he may be right, my explanation is more simple; I just cannot conceive of letting her creative streak wane. During a previous slow period, Elsie expressed a desire to retire from weaving and I was in a funk for weeks.
When she arrived this time, I was sitting in Barry’s office, working on a story, some might say tall tale, he had recently outlined. Elsie wandered in, sat down with a casual air and began to ask about mortgages, bank failures and high gas prices. “It’s not so good is it?”, she queried. “Well, we may all have to tighten our belts a little”, I responded, “the economists keep talking about recession.” She looked up, smiled gently and said, “I had a prayer done on this basket. That should make things better.” Apparently she had been talking with her father, a traditional Navajo medicine man, and he had suggested a remedy. The prayer was said, the basket blessed and off to the trading post she sped.
As far as I am concerned, nothing is better than people working together to find reasonable solutions to a difficult problems. Being as concerned about her trading post pals as she was about herself, she asked her father to include us in the blessing. I could not help feeling a great fondness for her, so I dug into Barry’s hidey-hole and paid her for the basket; maybe a little less than she had hoped, but probably more than I could afford. In the bargain, however, I received an invaluable human experience. “It will work,” she assured me and turned toward the door. “It always does,” I reassured her with a wink. Now that is the essence of tradiology.
With warm regards,
Steve, Barry and The Team