Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Business, Religion and Pauline

The trading post was fairly busy with tourists, locals and a Mormon missionary couple when I heard the entry chimes go off again. Looking up to see who it was, I winced because I instantly recognized Pauline Deswudt. Pauline weaves very nice hand-spun rugs, and is one of the toughest negotiators in the Indian art world. What I did not need right then was an audience while dealing with Pauline. I knew for a fact that she would use any, and every advantage, to make a deal swing in her favor. I also knew that working out a fair value for the weaving stowed in Pauline’s Blue Bird flower sack was going to take time and concentrated effort. I walked over to Pauline and asked if she would give me a few minutes to help the customers. Pauline smiled and said she would.

I went back to work, hoping Steve, Priscilla, Rick or Susie would soon return from wherever they had wandered and help me disperse the crowd. I was achieving fairly good success with the customers, helping them fill their wants and needs, then sending them back out into the gorgeous Spring afternoon sunlight. As I worked, I noticed that Pauline and the missionaries were engaged in animated conversation. I groaned inwardly as she unveiled a weaving that her mother-in-law, Julia Deswudt made before she passed in October 2013. We must have bought and sold a hundred of Julia’s rugs before she departed for the Sky World. I wondered why we were now seeing the rug? Pauline caught me spying on her, turned her back on me and reengaged the missionary couple.

Before long, the crowd dwindled down to Pauline, the missionaries and me. I took up a conversation with the missionary couple who were quite pleasant and courteous. The couple assured me that they were just looking and waiting to meet someone, and that I should go ahead and take care of Pauline. "Great," I thought, "they were now on a first name basis with the woman I was preparing to negotiate with." I needed a distraction. Where was my crew? I could tell they were curious how I would treat their new friend. Pauline rolled out Julia's rug, and explained that she did not really want to sell the rug, but needed the money to help the kids participate in an important sporting event. Then, with great humor in her eyes, Pauline loudly quoted a price that was triple what it was worth.

In April 1880, the Mormon settlers first struggled into this unaccommodating river valley and collapsed upon the red sand in frustration and fatigue. This devout group of rugged individuals were on a mission for their church. Simply put, they were sent by Brigham Young to expand the church's horizons, and bring the Book of Mormon to the Lamanites (Native people). The stated philosophy was to be as unobtrusive as possible while proving the value of the Mormon culture. When Brigham Young Jr. finally released the Saints of Bluff from their calling, most of the families moved north to slightly greener pastures in Monticello, then Blanding. Some left the country completely, vowing never to return to such a forlorn and desolate land, leaving Bluff in the hands of the heathens.

The point is that descendants of every Mormon family that ever resided in Bluff, and some that never did, still lay a serious emotional claim to Bluff City. They also accept an enduring social responsibility towards her Native peoples. Pauline, the missionary couple and I were all very familiar with the past, present and future ramifications of what was happening, and one of us was taking advantage of the situation. I had no desire to get "crosswise" with the religious right over a simple rug deal, nor was I in the mood to be the butt of a joke either.

With a tortured smile plastered across my lips, I quietly told Pauline that there was no way in Hell that I was going to pay three times the price for Julia’s rug. I was pleased that she would bring the rug to us and was willing to help but was unwilling to be skinned in the process. Pauline laughed at my uncomfortable predicament, the missionary couple, nonchalantly, moved in closer to better hear the conversation, and I began to sweat. I could see where a misunderstanding could arise. I was probably overreacting, but one can never be too cautious when it comes to political or religious fallout. I had to consider that my darling Mormon bride, a descendent of the original bishop of Bluff, "Brother Jens" no less, might take exception to an ideological misstep on my part. Pauline could see the deer in the headlights look in my eyes, and quickly pressed her advantage. "Please!" she said piteously, "I really need the money!"

The sister missionary had seen and heard enough, she clutched her purse, determined, I am sure, to give Pauline whatever currency was contained therein. The brother restrained his wife and bodily moved her across the store, mumbling something about nonintervention. I was a bit taken aback by his overly generous gesture; Pauline looked surprised as well and slightly guilty. Seeing a way out of the corner I had been painted into, I was about to tell the couple that they were more than welcome to purchase the rug directly from Pauline; it was fine with me! At that moment, a bright-eyed young man in a black suit and a name tag poked his head in the door, located the couple and said, "Sorry we're late, we can go now!" The missionary couple quickly exited the building.

Focusing back on Pauline I said; "Darn your twisted sense of humor, you could have had me black balled from Bluff." "I know," laughed Pauline, "that's what makes it so funny!" Pauline must have felt sorry for me after that, because, without further debate, she quoted a fair price for Julia’s rug. I wrote her a check and she departed, still chuckling to herself at the joke she had pulled off at my expense. From that day forth, I have made a personal promise of never mixing business with religion and Pauline.

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