Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Joke Was On Me

Heading south towards Bluff recently, I had the radio tuned to the National Public Radio station. After a profusion of bad economic reports about rising unemployment and the sinking housing market, I decided I had had enough bad news and switched to the oldies station.

Steve and Jana Simpson with their War Basket at Twin Rocks Trading Post
Steve & Jana Simpson with their War Basket at Twin Rocks Trading Post

Often I have wondered what it is that makes a song, a smell, an object resonate with me. There are certain things that move me whenever and wherever I see or experience them. Over the years, I have decided the reason is generally that there is a special person attached to the memory. Independent of that person, the song, smell or object has less significance.

It was almost midnight as I tuned into the oldies channel. Trying to stay alert lest I unintentionally maim or kill one of the numerous deer that stroll the deserted highway between Monticello and Blanding, I turned up the volume and rolled down the window to let in the frigid air. The evidence of less diligent, or simply unlucky, drivers littered the pavement.

It was about that time I heard the familiar strains of Yesterday; probably my all-time favorite song. This Beatles melody goes to the very core of my existence. As I listened to the beautifully simple lyrics, my mind drifted back to the art Jana and I have gathered during our relationship. Our collection is an eclectic accumulation of kachina pins, rugs, baskets, Pueblo pottery and paintings with no unifying theme. As I considered the individual pieces, one Navajo basket stood out.

The basket was acquired in 1995, when, despite my lackluster record, I was considering yet another assault on the institution of marriage. Jana was both exciting and persistent, so late one evening after a few glasses of wine, I screwed up my courage and said, “Will you marry me?” Not the most romantic proposal, but it seemed to work. “Sure,” she said, apparently more confident than I.

Being the practical man I am, my next question was equally direct, “Should we get rings?” Since they had not made any substantial difference the first time through, I was not enamored of the idea of wearing a wedding ring this time. Jana apparently felt the same, because she said, “No, just get me a basket. I’ll only lose a ring.” It was at that moment I realized I had the right girl; after all, Navajo baskets were my life.

As other nuptial arrangements went forward in a blinding rush, I carefully evaluated what kind of basket was appropriate. This of course had to be a special piece, no ordinary basket would do. The weaving would have to hold together two extremely strong-willed, hardheaded individuals who were accustomed to having their own way. Powerful medicine was needed to stitch that fabric together.

A Navajo ceremonial basket was the logical choice. These weavings were indispensable in the traditional wedding and healing ceremonies, and had a great story to go along with their elegantly simple design. At the time Peggy Black was doing the very best ceremonials, so I explained the situation and asked her to begin the project. She readily agreed, and two weeks later arrived at Twin Rocks with just what I needed.

Peggy had obviously taken her time and put a lot of herself into the weaving; it was tightly woven and finely finished. As I ran my fingers over the stitching, I unconsciously counted the red coils which are an integral part of the design. These are commonly referred to as blood rings and are said to represent the mixing of your blood with your spouse’s as well as familial stability. One, two, three, four, five; five blood rings I said to myself. “Beautiful”, I declared, thinking that five was a good, solid number and failing to attach any significance to the broad smile on Peggy’s face.

The basket became part of our own marriage ceremony and was thereafter placed in a prominent location in the house above the trading post, where it has resided ever since.

As Jana and I fought through our first years together, trying to blend our disparate lives and bring some order to the chaos, I often wondered at the passion with which we argued through certain issues. Several years later, when life had settled into a comfortable routine, and Jana and I had both finally concluded this relationship had a realistic chance to last a lifetime, I discovered the key to those early battles.

As I thumbed through a text on Southwest Indian basketry, I noticed a Navajo ceremonial basket similar to the one Peggy had made for us. Thinking the baskets were in fact identical, I began to count. One, two, three, four, five; precisely the same number of blood rings as our basket. As I read the text, I was stunned. The weaving in the illustration was described as a War Basket, which is commonly used in the Enemy Way ceremony. Now I understood that sly smile, Peggy had woven a war basket to solemnize our marriage. I guess the joke was on me.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

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