Friday, October 30, 2009

McKinney's Market

Lately Craig, Steve and I have been contemplating the possibility of retirement, and have decided it is just not in the cards for us. As our dear old dad, "Duke", says about work, "I'll be here until they haul me out feet first!" Mom replies, "If that's the case, you're on your own!" Obviously a consensus has not been reached. Some people work to retire, while others work to live. If our parents cannot reach an accord soon it might cost our father a good woman, or at least a bump on the head.

Barry @ Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Duke and Rose's decision is one of choice, not necessity. Not so with us. As a result of the times in which we live, and the commitment we have made to Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe, my brothers and I have concluded that, unless there is divine intervention, we are truely "tied to the post".

That said, I have been considering how to approach our position with some sense of decorum. In other words, we are in need of a comfortable, yet manageable, approach to "hanging around". While considering our options, I was reminded of an interesting experience I had after working a trade show in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Years ago, the Smoky Mountain Gift Show was a venue we took advantage of to share American Indian arts and crafts with the rest of the country. On one particular trip, I attended the show with my sister Cindy. While there, Cindy became seriously ill and had to bow out of the breakdown and clean up. We later discovered she was pregnant with Tarrik, and was reacting poorly to her introduction to gravidity. Friends took her to Ashville to rest and wait for our flight home. I packed up the show, contacted the freight company about shipping the containers home and promptly left the building.

Just before leaving town I realized the car was in need of gasoline, so I wheeled the rental into McKinney's Market, which is located at the intersection of the Great Smoky Mountain Parkway and the Historic Nature Trail. Exiting the vehicle, I discovered the pumps were not programmed to accept credit cards. Taking a chance, I lifted the nozzle from its cradle and tilted the lever. The pump surged to life, so I filled the tank and headed inside to pay. I smiled inwardly as I told myself there are still trusting people in the world. I remember thinking it might also be that or sheriff Buford T. Pusser was on hand to run down anyone attempting to gas and go. About that time, I noticed a set of double glass doors at the entrance of the building. When I pulled on the left side, which was covered with a blizzard of local fliers, it seemed blocked. All indications pointed to the conclusion that the right door was the only available access, so I heaved it open and stepped inside the store.

Upon entering, I noticed an attractive young lady standing behind a counter, which was situated immediately to my left. Turning toward her, I nearly fell over an antiquated woman perched in a lounge chair just behind the left door. I apologized vehemently, but received only a disdainfully raised eyebrow in return. Backing off a bit, I surveyed the situation and found an eighty-something, well-fed woman stretched out in a Lazy Boy chair which was elevated on a 6" high pine dais. She was casually dressed in wool slacks, black boots, an over-sized purple sweater and a plaid shirt jacket. The old girl wore a heavily wrinkled exterior; had intelligent blue eyes; and sported short, well managed shoulder-length gray hair. She gnawed less than delicately on either a baseball player sized wad of bubblegum or an unhealthy chunk of chewing tobacco. Her outward manifestation made it clear she did not much care for the opinions of others.

As I looked her over, she stared back at me with a contemptuous expression on her furrowed brow. The young woman wore an apologetic look. "That will be $14.50", she said, as if to more quickly conclude the transaction. I moved forward again, steering clear of the lounging woman's faux leather boots. Because of the close proximity of the staring woman on my left and a rack of potato chips on my right, this maneuver was rather uncomfortable. I felt like a bull being herded into a cattle chute. I nervously stepped into the narrow gap and was struck with an epiphany. Turning back to the lounger, I said, "You are Mrs. McKinney, aren't you?" "Damn Right!" she shot back as she switched her chaw from one cheek to the other. "Nice to meet you ma'am," I said respectfully. "Yup!" said Mrs. McKinney, as if I had been slow on the uptake. The young woman smiled sweetly, took my money and said, "Thank you very much sir. Ya'll have a good one." "You un's too." I said in my best Southern drawl. Tipping my head respectfully to Mrs. McKinney, I left the store and proceeded to Ashville.

As I think about it now, lounge chairs might be solution to my retirement dilemma. There are two sides to the cash register in the trading post; one for me and one for Steve. Personally, I am partial to distressed leather. There are also double glass doors at the cafe; plenty of room for Craig to place an overstuffed chair, just like Mrs. McKinney. All we need to do is take up chewin' and cussin'. Laurie would agree that I am well on my way to perfecting such an existence. All I can say is "Damn right!"

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 200 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hello Goodbye

Just outside the Kokopelli doors hang two woodcarvings by Dave Sipe, a folk artist from Mancos, Colorado. The carvings feature Navajo men holding signs that say “Ha’goo’nee” and “Ya’ at’ eeh.” While not exactly culturally or grammatically accurate, they are attractive, whimsical pieces.

Ya' at' eeh'

On days when the doors are flung open to reveal the beauty of Bluff, people often stand just outside the threshold, point to the carvings and ask, “What do they mean?” I frequently joke that they indicate our acceptance of American Express and Visa credit cards. After a good laugh, I explain that ya’ at’ eeh is Navajo for “hello” and ha’goo’nee’ is “goodbye.” Although that generally ends the investigation, for me the carvings have much deeper meaning.

Having grown up in the 1960s, I cannot walk past the pieces without thinking of the 1967 Beatles tune Hello Goodbye. Shortly after that song was released in the United States, Paul McCartney was asked to explain its meaning. He responded by saying, “The answer to everything is simple. It’s a song about everything and nothing. If you have black, you have to have white. That’s the amazing thing about life.”

McCartney’s explanation echos the Navajo belief that everything in nature has both positive and negative aspects. As McCartney noted, black does not exist without white. Correspondingly, males do not exist without females and there is no day without night.

This positive/negative framework of the Navajo does not fit neatly within the Western philosophy of right and wrong, it is a much broader, more subtle concept. Navajo scholar Harry Walters once described it to me in terms of a blizzard. “If you go out in it without the proper clothing, you might freeze to death,” he said, “it’s dangerous.” The storm, however, brings much needed moisture to the land, and is therefore beneficial. Harry’s interpretation was that all things can help or harm you, it is simply a matter of how you manage the various elements.

Priscilla and I have often stood on the Twin Rocks Trading Post porch and watched as a violent thunderstorm flashes its way across the land. On those occasions, she frequently says something like, “Steve, that’s a male storm. See how it blusters and blows like a man; lots of wasted energy. Female storms are gentler, quieter and leave more useful moisture; the rain does not simply run off.” I have many times thought of her comments when I am about to commence a storm of my own making. Her sound teaching has saved me, and those around me, a lot of heartache.

The other day I was in a particularly rambunctious, some might say obnoxious, mood. Having tolerated all she could stand, Jana finally declared, “Stop being such a . . . guy!” Her statement reminded me of a basket woven by Agnes Gray several years ago. The title of the weaving was Separation of the Sexes.

In that story First Woman infuriates First Man by belching after dinner and immediately launching into a lecture about how important she is to the relationship. As a result of the ensuing argument, all females are banished to the other side of the river. First Man apparently wished to drive home the point that men can live without women easier than women can live without men. The men and women finally reconcile, but not before serious consequences arise for the Navajo people; the monsters are spawned and begin terrorizing the tribe.


Eventually both sexes realize they are inextricably woven together in one great tapestry, and separation is not a viable option. The fabric of life needs us all, with our many and varied characteristics, to make it whole. As McCartney said, “That’s the amazing thing about life.”

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 16, 2009

Virginia Got Lucky!

Last Thursday, a Navajo rug weaver I had known in the old days walked into the trading post with one of her beautiful Yei-be-chei weavings. Virginia had not been in Twin Rocks Trading Post for years, because her pricing had long ago outpaced our purchasing power. Sometime in the early 1980s, our Sedona, Arizona competitor began offering extraordinary prices for her rugs. Being unwilling to compete with this high-end buyer, we stopped purchasing Virginia's weavings.

Virginia and her son.

Virginia originally came to us through her mother, Lena Poyer. Lena also wove white Yei rugs that made me weak and was one of the toughest negotiators I have ever dealt with. Somehow she knew I would always buy her weavings, so she universally took advantage of the situation to put me through my paces. Unfortunately, Lena now struggles with dementia and can no longer weave. I miss her a great deal.

Virginia Poyer-Begay shares her mother's weaving talents, but has an altogether different negotiating approach; she simply doesn't bargain! Virginia is one of those artists who has always been a pleasure to deal with; she is calm, cool, collected and self-assured. In the past Virginia would state her price and we would scramble to empty ash trays and lift the sofa cushions, looking for every spare coin to pay the tariff. There was simply no negotiating, it was all or nothing. I think Steve and I bought every rug Virginia ever brought in; until her prices tripled.

When Virginia came in this time, I was working in my office. Priscilla, who was covering the floor for me, said, "Barry, you might want to come out, there is someone here to see you." Looking through the open door, I noticed Virginia toting a rug rolled into a long narrow cylinder. Even from my poor vantage point I could tell the weaving was spectacular.

Although I was pleased to see an old friend, I feared the rug in her hand, knew the process that would follow and immediately got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. "Hello Virginia," I said, and in the same breath, "I can't afford your rug." Virginia smiled broadly and said, "Hello Barry, yes you can!" We bantered pleasantly for a short time, and I mentioned that she could likely get a lot more for her weavings than I could pay her. "That was then." she said, "Have you been living in a cave? Times have changed." I was dumbfounded, because this is the approach I have recently taken with artists trying to sell their work. Virginia had turned the tables on me and I was in unfamiliar territory.

"Whaddayamean?" I stammered. Virginia explained that she was well aware of the difficult economic times, and that it was no longer possible to get the extraordinary prices she once received. She told me she was willing to sell her rug at 1980 prices. "But I want something more," she said. I looked at Virginia skeptically and said, "Whaddayamean?" "Stop that!" she laughed, "Do you remember what that price was?" I shook my head in the affirmative and looked at her closely, trying to predict what would follow.

What I did not know was that Virginia and her entourage had become attached to "Lucky", the mangled brown sheep which stood just inside the Kokopelli doors. We had taken to calling the sheep Lucky after that famous lost dog poster; the one featuring an accidentally neutered dog with three legs, one blind eye, a missing ear and a broken tail. The dog answered to the name Lucky, you know the one. Our brown sheep was in a similar state of disrepair. He was so popular with visiting children that he had been worn to a frazzle. Our hapless sheep had loose horns, was missing his tail, one eye had fallen out and his ear had been loved off; thus the descriptive moniker. "I want the same price you used to pay me and that brown sheep!" said Virginia.

Struggling to understand the psychology behind the request, I gave up and began scratching my head. "We used to have the tail around here somewhere," Priscilla said. I shot her a wondering look and asked Virginia why she wanted such an ill-fated character. "He reminds me of the Simpson brothers!" was her spontaneous reply. "All three of you are in various states of disrepair. The sheep reminds me of you, and the economy. I like it!"

Laughing at Virginia's painfully pointed statement, I agreed to her terms. I paid Virginia's price and her son gathered up Lucky, leaving me to wonder at the unusual encounter. Once Virginia and her clan were gone, Priscilla began rooting around noisily in the cabinets. "What the heck are you doing", I asked. "Looking for Lucky's tail", she said. "I promised to drop it off at Virginia's place if I find it." I shook my head sadly and went back into my office, smiling at the memory of all the good friends we have made through the years.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 9, 2009

Almost Fifty

Last Friday, Jana, Kira and Grange headed for Albuquerque to visit the more respectable side of the clan, so I had a little more familial freedom than usual. Consequently, when Barry and I barred the Twin Rocks Trading Post doors for the evening, I rushed upstairs and tugged on my cycling gear. It was going to be a beautiful evening, and I was feeling the pull of the pavement. Never mind that it might be dark by the time I finished; I had to get on the road.

Mother Earth & Sun Baskets

As I began the climb up Cow Canyon, I could tell my training had not been as diligent as it otherwise might have been. The breeze was, however, cool and soft, the cottonwoods golden and the rocks ablaze with early October light. It seemed clear that all the elements necessary for a great ride were falling into place. It is rare that I get to ride later in the day so, in spite of the struggle, I was smiling widely when I crested the hill.

Heading north as fast as my legs would carry me, which frankly was not very fast, I noticed the sun striding towards Comb Ridge. I was reminded of Johonaa’e, the Navajo deity responsible for carrying the sun disk across the sky each day. On this particular evening, he was blazing orange, and exhibiting all the majesty ascribed to him.

In Navajo mythology, Johonaa’e is represented as a tall, virile, handsome man with long black locks of hair. It was the union of Johonaa’e and Changing Woman that resulted in the birth of the Hero Twins, Monsterslayer and Born-for-Water. These twins were destroyers of the demons plaguing the Navajo and redeemers of their people.

Racing the sun towards White Mesa Hill, which I refer to as my personal nemesis because it is the last big climb before I make the turn home, I could see the sun would win and set long before I made it to Bluff. On the way back, about half way between White Mesa and town, Johonaa’e dropped below the horizon and Tl’ehonaa’e, the bearer of the moon, stepped onto the stage. Tl’ehonaa’e is just the opposite of Johonaa’e, and is portrayed as an elderly man with long silver hair. Tl’ehonaa’e has acquired the wisdom of the ages and is revered among the Navajo for his knowledge and experience.

As the diamonds of the desert began to ignite on the Reservation, twinkling an amber color, I could not help thinking that the setting of Johonaa’e and the rise of Tl’ehonaa’e was a perfect metaphor for this stage of my life. In less than a week, I will have been striding Mother Earth 50 years, and will begin receiving mailings from AARP. In my case, the youthful attributes of Johonaa’e have surely begun to dim, and in many cases have altogether faded. In my graying mane one would clearly recognize Tl’ehonaa’e. I am hopeful that in the preceding half century of life I have at least planted the seeds of knowledge and wisdom. What may sprout from those plantings is anybody’s guess.

As I dropped into Bluff through the rocky crag that is Cow Canyon and turned into the Twin Rocks Cafe parking lot, I noticed a group of European tourists standing on the porch. As I slowly peddled across the gravel, I heard one say in a French accent, “Mon dieu, a full moon.” Looking over my shoulder, I noticed the high cliffs behind the restaurant blocked my lunar companion from view. I sheepishly reached back and pulled down my cycling jersey. Maybe there is more Tl’ehonaa’e in me than I care to admit.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry and the Team.

Copyright 2009 Twin Rocks Trading Post

Friday, October 2, 2009

Football Follies and Financial Feasibility

This week I want to share one of my old football stories. I do so not as an opportunity to boast, because my high school football days are nothing to brag about. Instead, I share the tale because it is one I think about a lot; one that has become symbolic in my lifelong educational experience.

Navajo Baskets

While in high school, I followed my older brother, Craig, into the sport because he was really good at it. He was big, fast, strong and talented. I figured that because I was of the same gene pool I would be good as well. It was not until much later, however, that I learned the first rule of genetics, "What should be rarely is!"

Just to remain in Craig's wake I had to work extra hard. It was a good learning experience though, and I gained a better understanding of pride, greed, jealousy, self-pity and anger management. By the time I became a senior, I had come to terms with my lack of talent. By putting in the extra effort I become a decent football player. I was a 167 pound lineman, #66. In those days there were not enough "tackling dummies" for individual offensive and defensive squads, so most of us played both ways and nursed our bruises the next day.

On this memorable occasion we were practicing short yardage plays near the end zone; the team came up to the line and the quarterback barked out the call. From the huddle we knew it was a pass. A slant in for the wide receiver, slant out for the tight end and a curl in from the tail back. Bruce, our wideout, was the primary receiver. Our quarterback called out, "Down!", the line went down and braced for impact; "Set", we set ourselves for action; and then "HUT!" The entire team sprang into motion. The line tightened up to protect the passer. The ends sprinted off the line of scrimmage on their routes and the tailback hustled around the line towards the end zone. It was poetry in motion, a thing of beauty; mostly because we were not practicing against a live defense.

Bruce flew off the line, found his mark and slanted toward the end zone. The quarterback drew back, figured the trajectory and let fly. Bruce eyed the ball over his shoulder and put forth a burst of speed to catch the football and score. As Bruce and the ball sped to their appointed point of contact, we realized something terrible was about to occur. We watched in amazed wonder as Bruce sprinted blindly toward the goal post. We stood in silent fortitude, wishing to somehow impede our teammate's forward motion. Just short of where our wide receiver and the ball were supposed to meet, Bruce met the goal post.

There was a horrific banging, thudding sound, whereupon Bruce came to fully embrace the metal upright; was repelled and collapsed in a motionless heap. A collective groan rumbled through the team as we felt his pain. Everyone had seen it coming, but we could do nothing to prevent it. The coaches were the first to react, they sprinted to our hapless cohort and checked his pulse . . . He was still alive! They revived Bruce with smelling salts and drove him to the clinic for a check-up. It turned out Bruce was okay; mostly. His pads and helmet had saved his life. Bruce incurred a slight concussion, a loose front tooth and a new found respect for immovable objects.

Over the years we have often given Bruce a hard time about that event. Slapstick humor is actually really funny if no one gets hurt. Otherwise why would cartoons regularly feature Roadrunner dropping an anvil on Coyote's head, crushing his cranium; Jerry tripping Tom into a slamming door, thereby collapsing his nasal cavity; or Tweety Bird slapping Sylvester in the butt with a 2x4, forcing him into the Bull Dog's house. The Three Stooges made a living by poking each other in the eye and slapping one another other upside the head. Metaphorically speaking; there have been several times in my life where I have been running full-out, looking over my shoulder at a prize zipping my way, knowing full well I was going to score big and then, BANG!, hitting the goal post in full stride. I do not remember it ever being funny until healing had taken place and time had numbed the pain.

Surely many of us feel this way concerning our current economic woes. Way too many people have run into their own personal goalpost and dislodged a few teeth. Not necessarily because they were not paying attention, but because those we trust stood by and watched it happen. Many of the artists we deal with at the trading post have hit the wall. They are accustomed to asking us for advice on the subject. When they do, I often feel as I did watching Bruce racing towards that imminent impact and being unable to warn him. After much concerned concentration, Steve and I now tell the artists it is time to do their best work; to slow down and create art with passion and great attention to detail.

To effectively evade this economic goalpost and come out with a game winning catch we have to be even more aware of our surroundings; we have to work harder and sacrifice more. We must forgive the fact that we are not as big, fast, strong or talented as others. We can, however, accomplish great things if we put our minds to it. The artists of Twin Rocks Trading Post have really stepped up. They have shaken off the anchor of pride, greed, jealousy and self-pity, and discovered anger-management. Our customers have reacted favorably to this new and exciting thought process as well; they love that they are seeing better art and have been incredibly supportive.

With Warm Regards,
Barry, Steve and the Team.