Friday, June 21, 2013

The Basket Maker’s Hands

After 23 years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have begun to notice significant changes in many of the people we have known over that period of time. “Changes”, as most will realize, is code for how they, and Barry and I, have aged, physically, mentally and emotionally.
The Basket Makers Hands

Whether it is related to our age I do not know, but Barry and I have begun to sit for a time in the mornings, recapping the previous day and talking about things we need to do. Things like spending more time with our children before they leave home and fishing.

Years ago we would come in, sweep the porch, polish the glass and get right to work. Now it takes a while to prime the pump, and at times it is noon before we are fully engaged. Then we have to eat lunch, and before you know it, it’s quitting time. We are talking about incorporating a daily nap into our program, but have not been able to fit that into the otherwise busy schedule. As an alternative, during siestas we may just hang a sign around our necks which says, “Please wake for service.”

In addition to all the other changes, recently I realized Buffy and I have grown sensitive. As my hair and her face have turned whiter and whiter, more and more visitors to the trading post refer to her as “old dog”. When that happens, I advise them Buffy does not like that term and becomes extremely upset when it is used to describe her current circumstances. What I do not say, but what they surely realize, is that I am actually more concerned about me than her.

This morning Elyce and her sister, whose name I did not ask because she spoke only Navajo, came in looking for ceremonial baskets and Etta Rock pitch pots. It has been incredibly dry in southern Utah this year, so they, like the local farmers and ranchers, are water starved. Consequently, these siblings have decided on a traditional ceremony to bring down the rain. They promised to send some our way if we gave them a special deal, so Barry and I did not hesitate to oblige. Indeed, we would have donated the weavings all together if they had asked. We too are suffering from moisture deprivation. It is so bad around Bluff that Barry was recently researching how he might get an appointment to the federal government’s waterboarding research project.

Elyce is likely in her 50s, but her sibling just turned 80. Elyce said her sister used to make gobs of baskets, but her eyes have dimmed and rheumatoid arthritis has deformed her hands. At this point she cannot focus well enough and does not have adequate dexterity or strength in her fingers to properly place the stitches. The weaving machine has therefore ceased production, and she is forced to purchase rather than produce ceremonial baskets.

Unfortunately this is a situation Barry and I find quite often. The older basket makers can no longer execute, and the young people are too busy, too uninspired or just patently not interested. Looking at those hands, I was reminded of Mary Holiday Black and how many times I have wondered when she will also stop producing.

When Barry and I were young, many of the older traders told us we would not see any more Navajo rugs and baskets by the time we were their age. We are now their age, and wonder whether the prophecy is coming true. If it does, who’ll start the rain.

With Warm Regards,
Steve, Barry, Priscilla and Danny; the team.

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