Friday, April 17, 2015

The Finger

But for a few common phrases, a limited amount of numbers and an expletive or two, we did not speak the same language. That, however, was no impediment to our conversation. This was show-and-tell, not elaborate dialogue. Holding up a single digit, she was confident I would understand. I am no stranger to expressing one’s emotion with a finger or two, nor am I unfamiliar with this particular individual. I have known her more than 20 years and we have never shared a cross word.

Outside it was a blustery early April morning, and the Kokopelli doors were braced against a steady gale that blew in from the west. On spring days like this, Barry, Priscilla and I joke with Twin Rocks Trading Post patrons about not having to visit Monument Valley. Instead, thinking we might wheedle a few bucks out of them, we recommend they sit tight and watch as the formations blow by. “You can see the whole thing from right here”, we advise them. When it blasts particularly hard, we have actually been able to sell the idea. “Just give it a little time,” we admonish our impatient guests, “they will come.”
Navajo Ceremonial Horses Basket - Mary Holiday Black & Granddaughter (#348)

The trading post is a ever evolving kaleidoscope of humanity, and on stormy days the volume increases as people duck in to avoid the wind, rain, snow or cold. Over the course of any given day, we might see shoppers from every corner of the globe and artists from every region of the reservation. Barry and I work to cultivate both groups so the art ebbs in and flows out in a systematic, rhythmic and symbiotic tide. We, however, always seem to invest more than we divest, so the bankers have become our best friends.

As this cycle has developed, Navajo weaver Mary Holiday Black became a mainstay of our enterprise. Twin Rocks Trading Post is probably most well known for contemporary Navajo basketry, and at the store we have oodles and oodles of these woven gems. We also have gobs of people who stop by to investigate the cultural, historical and artistic meaning of these sumac story boards. Barry and I, and sometimes Priscilla too, are eager to decipher their messages. It does not take much to launch us into a discussion about their significance in Navajo folklore. To say we love baskets would be a gross understatement, they are in our blood and we are obsessed.

Mary is surely the most famous Navajo basket weaver ever, and in many ways she and Twin Rocks Trading Post are synonymous. You might say we are interwoven. As Mary’s reputation has soared, Twin Rocks has correspondingly become more widely known. Indeed, Barry and I have grown extremely fond of Mary, and she is considered the matron of our trading post family.

Along with her fame, a callous on her left index finger has ballooned. After scores of baskets, the lump had become greater than half an inch thick, and she has often displayed it to illustrate just how difficult weaving is on her hands, and to convince us we should be more generous in our offers. It is an odd reminder that progress typically comes at significant cost, and that in southeastern Utah fame is an imperfect hedge against hard work.

On this particular day Mary was not negotiating, she was flaunting. She had recently visited her physician and the pernicious barnacle was gone, disappeared, altogether vanished. That is why she stood on the consumer side of the counter holding up her finger. She was proud and wanted us to share in the exorcism of that painful bump. Barry, Priscilla and I each carefully examined her pointer, stroking the smooth surface in admiration. After all these years, was it actually gone for good? She was confident it would trouble her no more.

Having shared her good fortune, Mary proceeded on her way, and we went back to work. The incident must have made an impression on Barry, however, because later that day I overheard him talking with Danny. “Pull this finger”, Barry said, prompting his associate to take action. Danny must have complied, because the request was closely followed by a mysterious “chuff”. Priscilla, who was reorganizing the Navajo rugs, just smiled.

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

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