Friday, October 31, 2014


Yes-men “Yes”, I said to the woman who asked if she might photograph our Navajo baskets. “Yes”, I acquiesced when she wanted to handle a Nancy Chilly-Yazzie pottery vase. “Yes”, I allowed as she requested permission to take our Navajo rugs out into the sunlight to evaluate their quality. “Yes, yes, yes,” I said, “This is a yes place. We don’t like to say no.” The woman sensed my weakness and seemed inclined to press her advantage.

Hearing my comments, Priscilla nodded her head knowingly. After almost 25 years at Twin Rocks Trading Post, I have become a “yes-man”. The problem is that Priscilla has the same attribute. While one might question whether a woman has the essential characteristics, defines a yes-man as, “A man or woman who always expresses agreement.” Therefore, according to that imminently reliable resource Priscilla qualifies. As a result, Barry is the only person on the premises capable of saying “no," and when he is out of town we are in trouble.

At some point in my conversation with the assertive customer, I began to worry what might happen if she asked for a thousand dollars. Barry was traveling, so I wondered whether I would be compelled to give it to her, and whether Priscilla would consent. Years ago, Momma Rose claimed I would, “Argue with the Devil.” What that meant I was never completely sure, but she may have felt I was incapable of agreeing with anyone, including Old Scratch himself. Maybe she thought I was unpleasant, or maybe she believed I would simply debate all issues, no matter the subject. In any case, the trading post has apparently diminished my argumentative nature.
Navajo Male and Female Pottery Vase - Nancy Chilly (#55)

Despite Rose’s assessment, I have always viewed myself as a congenial individual. When I recently mentioned this personal assessment to Jana, she just laughed and said, “Let’s discuss that some other time.” On this point, however, Barry seems to agree with me. He is forever saying I am too soft on the artists and customers. “No wonder they always ask for Steve," he frequently comments to Priscilla, “he always gives in.” She just nods sympathetically and wonders whether there is enough left in the checkbook to make payroll.

Barry is more of the old-time trader type. It is the art of the deal that motivates him. In fact, I think he got Duke’s trader gene and I was left out of that particular genetic transfer. Indeed, the trait may have run out by the time I arrived. I guess I lean more towards Rose’s side of the family, although how that factors into the equation I do not really understand. In any case, I justify our situation by contending that Barry and I balance each other out, and the end result is workable. We will see what happens in the long term.

When it comes to ace traders, I am often reminded of Bob Slaven, one of Duke’s best trading buddies. Years ago Duke and Bob would load Bob’s truck with goods and hit the road for weeks at a time, trading for anything they came across. A jar of coins, elk teeth, deer horns, bear skin rugs, saddles, guns, jewelry, turquoise, steer scrotum purses, whatever they stumbled onto was fair game. When they returned, Priscilla and I would marvel at their stories and acquisitions, and from time-to-time bury the newly acquired trade-goods under the counter in hopes they would never again see the light of day. For Bob and Duke, the issue was never yes or no. Instead, it was how they were going to get the deal done, and they always did.

A few days after our initial encounter, the woman returned and I turned numb with fear. What might she request this time, I wondered. She immediately started in, “May I take your picture?” “Yes, if you don’t fear for your camera," I approved. Spotting Barry, she said, “Who’s that? Can I get his picture too?” “Okay," I said, shrugging my shoulders. Barry was not so sure, but I had already committed him. There was no way out.

Eyeing Buffy, and sensing his companion had me on the ropes, the woman’s husband said, “Hey, what about that old dog? She looks like a good one. Can we take her home with us?” Priscilla and I froze. Taking a page from the Duke and Bob play book, however, Barry saved the day by pointing to me and saying, “Sure, if you take him with you.” That, as they say, ended the conversation and Buffy and I remained on the job.

Feeling something had to be done to prevent a catastrophe, Barry recently enrolled Priscilla and me in “No Therapy." While the progress has been slow, we are getting better. “No, no, no," Priscilla and I chant several times each morning, confident we will one day overcome our handicap.

With warm regards from Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Ceremonial Buckskin

One of my favorite memories as a kid is going deer hunting with my father and brothers. Dad would roust us from bed early on crisp October mornings and advise us to quickly get ready. It didn't take us long to get out of the house when we were excited about going somewhere. This can often be a good thing, except that young boys seldom comb their hair, brush their teeth or dress properly in their rush to escape into the wild outdoors. In comparable situations, I have noticed similar behavior from my son Spenser. My wife even sometimes claims that I still have not outgrown this troubling behavior.

Since we were not preparing for entry into the world of humans, Mom would allow us out "as is." Dad would take us to the juniper groves and yellow grass of Bally Flats. Upon arrival we would pile out of the old truck and line up behind him in order of age. In my mind's eye, I can still see us trooping along behind our father, each stepping exactly in his footprints, one after the other.

Dad would occasionally stop short upon hearing the definitive sound of a "buck snort." "Hear that?" he would ask. "They're close boys, so close I can smell ‘em . . . Quiet now!" The time period would have been the mid-sixties. We were quite young, and thrilled at the thought of being out with our father. Dad was usually fairly reserved in public, but getting out into the hills seemed to loosen him up and ease the stress of supporting a growing family. It was a golden time; one I will always hold near and dear to my heart.
Twin Rocks Metal Art by Neil Rose $134.00 – (Contact Twin Rocks for Purchase)

One of my first introductions to Navajo culture came when I was a teenager; after a successful hunt. Our parents had moved us to Blanding, and we were managing the Plateau filling station on the south end of town. It was a full service operation, which brought us into close contact with both Navajo and Ute people on a regular basis. Opening day of the hunt had provided me with a heavy bodied three-point buck. I was home by 9:00 a.m., and had the animal hanging by a ladder near the station.

I was looking forward to Mom's famous hunting season breakfast of fresh, thinly sliced venison; homemade biscuits; and white gravy, but first I had to skin the deer as quickly as possible to get the tenderloin. As I stood there scratching my head, and looking for the best way to approach the situation, a beat up old pickup truck packed to the gunwales with a Navajo family nosed right up next to my game and me.

I was surprised by the intrusion and quickly turned to face the raiding party, armed only with a sharp knife and a bad attitude. An old, bent, white haired Navajo man scrambled out of the passenger side of the vehicle and walked right up to me speaking rapidly in his native tongue. Ignoring my aggressive stance, he plucked the knife from my hand, nudged me out of the way and went to work skinning my deer. As the old timer worked, one of his entourage filled me in on what he was saying.

All I really remember was being chastised for almost wrecking a perfectly good ceremonial buckskin, and that he was a medicine man who was going to put it to good use. In approximately fifteen minutes, the old man skinned the animal from the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, right on down to its four black hooves. He handed back my knife, rolled up the buckskin, placed it in the back of his truck and drove away with his clan.

I stood there somewhat stunned and amazed at what had just taken place. Looking again at the deer, I realized my work was done. The tenderloin was exposed and only minutes away from Mom's magic kitchen. It was some of the most educational, memorable and tasty venison I have ever eaten.

I have since learned that the Navajo people believe ceremonial buckskin and corn were used to create the first people, who were made in the image of the Yei-be-chei. Buckskin is an important element in ceremonies such as the Beauty Way chant, and represents the honor and the respect game animals are given in Navajo traditions. Properly prepared buckskin is valuable, both economically and ceremonially. That elderly Navajo gentleman was one of the first to introduce me to the ways of the Navajo, and to him I am grateful.

The love of the fall hunt was definitely instilled in me by my father, who taught me many lessons about life and death, and also gave me a healthy respect for nature during our outings. I have also taken advantage of this initiation ceremony to build a closer relationship with my own son. We have spent many a frosty morning huddled close on a canyon rim or tree covered knoll, waiting for that monster buck to show himself. We have often failed to put venison on the table, but have been very successful at bonding, sharing and gaining a better understanding of each other and the ways of the world.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Are You A Simpson?

Many years ago our sister Cindy began researching the Simpson family history. Having grown up in Mormon country, where determining one’s genealogy is essential to a full religious experience, she apparently felt compelled to unearth our own paternal roots. I have often wondered whether she initiated the enterprise after being led to believe we came from royalty and that she was, therefore, a princess. Simpsons, as we know, have vivid imaginations. That is, however, a different story that should be left for another day.

Having begun her project in earnest, she soon uncovered details better left in the past. Illuminating the activities of our ancestors was apparently an unnerving experience, and after arriving at that conclusion she folded her tent, locked the offending documentation in a chest and abandoned the undertaking. It is clear from what little information Cindy later disclosed that our antecedents were mostly outlaws, misfits, vagrants, miscreants and Democrats; the latter category being most worrisome. Intuitively understanding that our linage should never be open to the public, before Cindy began her investigative adventure I had consciously avoided the truth. Indeed, fearing what I might find, I steadfastly refused to interpret our family narrative.

Last Tuesday as I sat at my desk trying to sort out the trading post accounting, which is always challenging, I was reminded of Cindy’s quest. Having heard the doorbell ring, I looked up to see a slender, well-dressed, middle-aged man enter the store through the Kokopelli doors. Since it was late in the afternoon, Barry had given up trying to peddle turquoise and was reclining in one of the wooden chairs strategically located in the middle of the showroom. “Good afternoon”, I heard Barry warmly greet the guest. “Good afternoon to you”, the man replied affably, “Are you one of the Simpsons?”

Knowing our history all too well, Barry’s posture straightened and he cautiously responded, “Well, that depends on whether you are from the CIA, FBI, NSA, IRS, ATF, EPA, BIA, BLM or one of those other governmental agencies designate by consonants and vowels and designed to trip up ordinary human beings. If, on the other hand you are from ABC, CBS or NBC, I have a story to tell, let’s talk.” While Barry was not interested in being incarcerated long-term, but was still looking for the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol guaranteed us all.

Several years before, after a particularly harrowing federal raid in Blanding, Barry and I had been advised by a lawyer who came wandering into the trading post to always stonewall when people asked for information. This shyster had counseled that we should never voluntarily divulge our personal affairs. “Never give ‘em anything”, the ambulance chaser cautioned, “make ‘em work for it. If you directly ask ‘em if they work for the feds, they have to tell ya, then you’ll know and won’t be entrapped.” Since I cannot keep a secret, that guidance was lost on me. Barry, on the other hand, was obviously following the jurist’s instructions. He seemed worried I may have made some grievous error he had yet to identify and this guy knew more about that particular issue than he was willing to reveal.

“No, no, none of that”, the gentleman replied, “just met a character in Blanding who said he had two sons here in Bluff. Thought you might be one of them. I think his name was Ace or Duce.” “Duke”, Barry corrected. After a bit, Barry relaxed and began chatting amiably with the visitor. He had obviously forgotten about going to jail and was thinking there might be one last chance to sell a Navajo basket, rug, folk carving or piece of silver jewelry.

As I watched through the tinted glass of my office, the dapper man closely inspected Barry. Sensing nothing was amiss, after a time I went back to my accounts and left Barry to address any ongoing issues. When he had concluded his analysis, the dandy turned to go. Before exiting he said, “By the way, while I may not be employed by any of those organizations you mentioned, if I were with the fashion police I would have to charge you with a first degree felony for violating the IDC, International Dress Code.” Obviously impressed with his own humor, and chuckling to himself, the man strolled out, glowing like a new penny in the late afternoon sunlight. Barry self-consciously smoothed the wrinkles in his Twin Rocks Cafe T-shirt and uttered an oath he had long ago learned from our neighbor Opal Hooper.

With warm regards Steve Simpson, and the team; Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.