Friday, November 21, 2014

It’s All About the Story

So there I was last weekend at the wedding of one of our nephews on Jana’s side when my brother-in-law’s brother-in-law, which I believe makes him our other-in-law, pulled up a chair and sat down next to me. Jana speculated he probably had heard how fascinating I am and wanted to get in on the action. She is usually right about such things, so I told her I thought her conclusion was correct. She just nodded her head and smiled knowingly.

My new companion looked like a conservative middle-of-the-road type, maybe even a right-leaning Tea Party activist. The celebration had, however, been pretty lively up to that point so I didn’t know what to expect. As it turns out, he is a Mormon, converted at 18 and actively pursuing the faith ever since. Surely his boat, as my nephew’s newly minted mother-in-law is inclined to say, “Was going under the bridge straight and true." Having spent the overwhelming majority of my life in Mormon Country, I try to keep my vessel straight and true too. Unfortunately it tends to wander, and is often distracted by the eddies of everyday life.

Once my new friend declared his religious affiliation, I was comfortable our discussion would at least be lucid. He looked like he had a few tales to tell, and I thought under the right circumstances he might spark up and become a real adventure. At this stage in my life, interesting is my watchword, and I actively seek out intriguing people, places and things. Because of my close connection to Utah, I am fascinated with Mormon culture and welcome any insight I can gain, so I took a big gulp of my tonic water and jumped right in.

Turns out this guy is a real gem, the genuine article when it comes to storytelling. He had been a Navy pilot during the last days of Vietnam and was involved in a few skirmishes. Fortunately for him, and his unborn children, the battles officially ended shortly after his arrival. That, however, did not prevent him from accumulating a couple good narratives. Nothing too risky or risqué, but he did see a few bullets fly and was involved in an explosion or two.

“It’s all about the story," he said as we discussed his military adventures, his affiliation with the Mormon Church and the teaching position he held in the Georgia school system. As a teacher he interacted with students from a variety social and economic backgrounds. ROTC was his specialty and he loved his students; working hard to give them the tools necessary to survive in contemporary society. He said for a majority of his students there was an unfortunate lack of fiscal and monetary knowledge; an overwhelming difficulty mapping future needs and desires; and an almost total disregard for how decisions made today impact one’s future. I mentioned Barry and I see some of the same characteristics in local silver smiths, basket makers, folk carvers and rug weavers.
Elsie Holiday Navajo Bison Basket

Despite his somewhat bleak commentary, he did have inspiring examples of success, which reminded me of Mary Holiday Black. She, in spite of significant cultural obstacles, became one of the most important contemporary Native artists in the United States. Mentioning the weaving of Elsie Holiday, whom Barry and I agree is the best contemporary Navajo basket maker; I realized an interesting narrative might be developed from our experiences at Twin Rocks Trading Post.

Beginning to think our journey might be molded into an epic tale, I imagined a book deal, a TV series and maybe even a feature length film. All we needed was a healthy dose of creative embellishment. My other-in-law had noted it was, “about the story;" he never said it had to be the true or accurate story. So I began thinking we might need to invent a few crazy customers and some implausible circumstances to really get things started. When I mentioned it to Jana, she pointed out we had already made up countless unbelievable characters, told more than our share of canards and invented volumes of extraordinary events that never really happened. Forget Pawn Stars she said, you and Barry can be the Non-Stars.

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

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