Friday, May 24, 2013

No Cows Please

At the trading post Barry and I exist in what can only be described as a cultural cyclone. We invariably get caught up in interesting and unusual circumstances involving local traditions, folklore and mythology. Sometimes these situations include employee matters, but most often they are a sharing of personal stories, philosophies and beliefs. We are often swept up like Dorothy and Toto, and find ourselves enveloped in the colorful world of the Navajo, in the land of coral cliffs and turquoise skies.
Recently I was talking with Jenelia, a morning cook at Twin Rocks Cafe, about the upcoming marriage of her daughter to Wesley Simpson, a young man with no direct connection to us. Jenelia has three children, Jalvin, Menvalia and Melvida. She and her husband Melvin devised each name using a combination of letters from their own monikers. Menvilia, the middle child, is the bride-to-be.

Jenelia has a fascinating perspective, so whenever I can I engage her in conversation. Because she has diligently worked to educate her offspring and improve their lives, Barry and I have a great fondness and respect for her. On a recent occasion she and I hit on the topic of growing up poor. “It was bad for us”, she said. “Not any worse than it was for us” I countered, explaining that when we were boys, Barry, Craig and I slept on the living room floor of a partially burned, partially repaired trailer house that had surplus U.S. Army blankets for doors. “Oh”, she said, “that’s nothing, when I was a girl, at the beginning of each school year my family bought three pairs of pants and one package of underwear. My two sisters and I alternated the clothes so we didn’t have to be seen always wearing the same thing.” After comparing additional notes, I had to concede she had the better argument.

When we got back to talking about the wedding, she told me how she would be meeting with the family of the groom to, “sell her daughter”. This, she said, involved a complicated negotiation wherein she, as the presumptive mother-in-law, would receive turquoise jewelry, livestock and other items in return for arranging the marriage. In essence it seemed similar to the western culture’s tradition of dowry, just in reverse. This is probably because the Navajo have a matrilineal society.

As she explained the details of her negotiating strategy, she said, “Horses are good, sheep are good, you just don’t take cows!” “Cows”, I exclaimed, picturing the herds I see munching grass along our lonely reservation roads and those charismatic bovines on the Chick-fil-A billboards that say, “Eat mor chikin.” “What’s wrong with cows? I inquired, “I thought you liked them”. “I do”, she explained, “but if cows are involved, the bride will wander, so you never take cows.” Sometimes I think she says those things just to throw me off.

With warm regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; The Team

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