Friday, May 26, 2017

Look Dad, a Patipiller!

The other day I was talking with Eric, our Sysco representative, about his daughters. Eric, the son of Kim, who was also our Sysco contact many years ago, is greatly loved by the Twin Rocks team. When Eric shows up, we often converse several hours about Bears Ears National Monument, Trumponomics, and many other hot topics. Eric and I tend to have divergent philosophies, but there is one thing on which we agree: family first and always.

Since he is approximately 20 years younger than I, he and his daughters are experiencing things that are in my now distant past. As we talk about his girls, I see the light of love and the power of pride animating his entire being. The other day, he was explaining to me how his youngest had napped late in the afternoon and then kept him up until midnight, at which point she declared, “Daddy, my tired,” and promptly fell asleep. It reminded me of a story I wrote many years ago about my own children and convinced me to reprint that story this week. So, here it is: 

"Dad, look, a patipiller," Dacia shouted as she spotted a fuzzy red and black caterpillar slinking across the trading post porch. We both crawled on our hands and knees following the tiny creature as it inched across the vast expanse of concrete. I still remember the look of wonder in my daughter's eyes as the hairy, many-legged projectile wandered off.

I also experienced the wonder, but for a different reason; I knew the time would come when every word emerging from my little girl's mouth would be perfectly recognizable and wondered how that would make me feel. I was confident it would not give me the same warm sensation I felt at that moment.

Although it seemed I would enjoy many years of imperfect diction, that was not to be. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, I was marveling at the sentences Dacia was able to form, and all those fabulous mispronunciations and malapropisms were gone. There were, to be sure, a few phrases I did not fully understand; but that apparently was intentional, not the result of misplaced letters or misused words.

Six years later, Kira came along with a completely new vocabulary, and I was once again enchanted. She has long since given up asking to play games on the "papooter" and picking the "lellow" flowers, but I think of her almost every time I turn on my computer or see a stand of daffodils. The thought of Kira struggling with her language skills sometimes helps me forget the stresses of trading post life and reminds me what is really important.

Even Grange is beginning to progress from throwing "woks," being "firsty," and wearing "wed jammies" to hurling stones, requesting a drink of water, and sleeping in red Spider-Man sleepers. Last night, the rain came, with bright flashes of lightening and loud crashes of thunder. I felt that warm glow envelope my heart when I heard Grange explain to his mother how the "funder" was cracking and the "wain" was falling.

On the west side of the trading post is a tangle of bicycles, scooters, and a "Booley" bike trailer. Some of the equipment has not been used for years because it is too small, too pink, or just not cool. Every time I attempt to thin the heap by pitching part of it in the dumpster, the discarded article magically reappears at its original location before the trash man arrives to cart it off. I have been informed that sentimentality explains this phenomenon.

Jana and I often work with Grange to improve his speech and correct the mispronounced words. Just as the kids continue to retrieve the equipment littering the porch, from time to time I talk with Grange about "fighterfire" heroes and "oneing" in the morning, just to ensure he does not grow up too fast. Maybe I am a little self-centered, but I want to keep him young a while longer. Call it nostalgia or call it selfishness, although the kids have made great progress in language arts, I find myself hungering for the days when Dacia made me chuckle every time she wanted to visit the "stupermarket" for a treat.

Living and working at Twin Woks Trading Post has given me an unusual opportunity to experience the day-to-day development of my children. Often Grange will grab a bicycle or scooter, motor up to the front door, look inside to see what I am doing, and yell, "Love ya dad!" When I tell him, I love him too, he just says, "yep," and moves on to the next item on his agenda.

I already miss the patipillars and lellow flowers and will surely long for the funder when it no longer crashes outside my door. Yep.

Monday, May 22, 2017


I have come to realize that the choices we make in life frequently affect us in completely unexpected ways. That is an unavoidable fact. With those choices, we can be assured that there will be certain irreversible consequences. If we made all our decisions with thoughtful, considerate care; acted without emotion or spontaneity; and were extremely fortunate, the ramifications might not be so dramatic. The hope is that our actions will not cause harm to others, since we have an obligation to protect our fellow human beings. That, however, is not always the case.

Last week an elderly gentleman and his two female traveling companions strolled into the store and taught me a good lesson about making choices. Having worked at the trading post for just shy of 40 years, I have developed the ability to become acquainted with people in a very short time. Within a few minutes, I knew that Mr. Ernest Thomlinson was from Omaha, Nebraska; was 81 years old; and was traveling with his wife Emma and her widowed sister Erlene. I also learned that they had recently sold their large home, purchased a condo and dispersed most of their possessions to their three children---bad news for a salesman. Mr. Thomlinson and his wife were in what we call the de-acquisition phase of their lives! They had never before ventured into the great Southwest, were awed by the unique rock formations and thought the 80-degree heat was excessive and the air far too dry. They were, however, having a good time. Mr. Thomlinson was also an amateur photographer and had already snapped well over 3,000 images on this trip alone.

Mr. Thomlinson and I talked for a while and traded a few jokes. In short order, I became convinced he was sprinkling the conversation with a few white lies. For some time now, I have made a concerted effort to resist outright lies or even stretching the truth, otherwise things would have quickly gotten out of hand. Altogether, we had a pleasant visit and I felt I had met a genuine character. All too soon we shook hands and Mr. Thomlinson made his way out the door and down the front steps. Emma and Erlene followed Ernest, thanking me for "corralling" the old timer so they had more time to browse. I watched them through the large plate glass windows as they ambled out to the middle of the parking lot. Mr. Thomlinson then lined up the two women for a photo in front of the Twin Rocks.

The parking lot was busy with lunch hour traffic, and cars were weaving their way around the small group. Mr. Thomlinson was unconcerned with the vehicles, focusing only on getting the shot. His partners were more aware of the danger, shuffling from one position to another to dodge cars or comply with the directions of their diligent photographer. Because of their large size, it is almost impossible to frame a photograph of the towering Twin Rocks with family or friends in the foreground. The difference in elevation between the twin spires and our parking lot is drastic indeed. Mr. Thomlinson, however, had a solution. Before his wife or sister-in-law could stop him, Mr. Thomlinson kneeled down, placed both hands on the ground and sprawled flat out in the gravel. Rolling to his side, Mr. Thomlinson brought the camera to his eye and began redirecting his stunned womenfolk. That was not a good choice!

Witnessing this potential disaster in the making, I moved towards the door, concerned for the safety of my newly found friend. I could see in my mind's eye the headlines that might arise from an associated accident. I knew without a doubt that we would be dubbed "The Road Kill Cafe" if I didn't get the old man up quickly. Emma and Erlene were way ahead of me though; they quickly positioned themselves for Mr. Thomlinson's photograph and instructed him to get out of the dirt. Mr. Thomlinson captured the image and, as quickly as his old bones could, moved to his knees. Seeing his progress, I backed into the building to avoid embarrassing him. Placing his hands flat on the ground, Mr. Thomlinson first straightened one leg and then the other. And there he stayed, he could move no further without an odds-on chance of losing hide and hair. He looked like a stink bug with his rear end sticking straight in the air, warning off any would-be attackers.

As I watched, Mr. Thomlinson made several determined efforts to bring his torso up and gain his footing. It was not going to happen; his 81-year-old muscles were having none of it. He was trapped liked a mired Mastodon. I again headed out the door to save the poor man, but Emma and Erlene once again beat me to the punch. The two women quickly moved in, grabbed him by the suspenders and hauled back with all their might. The effort was just enough to raise Mr. Thomlinson's palms off of the ground and lift his torso to a level where he could move his right foot forward. His feet began to move in sequence, first one foot then the other, then again, faster this time. The chaotic affair was not yet over.

As with most men of his age, Mr. Thomlinson's center of balance had migrated. His well-defined stomach began to move him forward at an accelerated rate. His feet were spinning on the gravel, and his momentum was bringing him dangerously close to a disastrous end. The greater problem was that Emma and Erlene were still attached to the suspenders, leaning back with all of their willowy strength, but being dragged forward and down all the same. I began to run towards the threesome, knowing full well that I would not arrive in time to avert a catastrophe. I was frightened by the potential outcome, because I had witnessed, and experienced, many a gravel crash rash in my time, and knew it would take this group a long time to heal.

Mr. Thomlinson had not given up hope, however, and made a last-ditch effort to gain his balance by throwing his right foot forward and hauling back with every ounce of strength his tired body could muster. At that point, I witnessed a miracle; Mr. Thomlinson's foot connected with solid ground and caught just long enough for him to regain his footing. The three elderly adventurers gathered their wits and smoothed their feathers. I halted my forward motion and peeled off behind a parked car just in time to avoid detection.

Mr. Thomlinson now had to deal with the long-term consequences of his choice. Emma and Erlene tag-teamed the old boy with verbal abuse, venting the accumulation of adrenaline they had so recently acquired. Things got ugly quickly, so I slipped away and silently wished Ernest Thomlinson well, realizing the bad decision he had made had rippled out and caused a tsunami effect on those he held dear. It was lucky for him, and all concerned, that total disaster was so narrowly avoided. As I contemplated the affair, I came to realize just how much our bad choices effect those we love. The lesson Mr. Thomlinson taught me that day is live, love, learn, listen, react well, and mostly . . . look for forgiveness early and often.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Listen to What The Man Said

Not long ago, a woman stopped by Twin Rocks Trading Post to peruse our inventory of turquoise jewelry, baskets, folk art and Navajo rugs. As she browsed, we talked. After a time, I realized I knew her son and daughter-in-law. During our conversation she mentioned that, after several years in corporate America, her boy had decided working for “The Man” was not his idea of fun. At that point, he quit his job and returned to southern San Juan County. Apparently, he is much happier.

Her comments brought back memories of my earliest encounter with The Man. My experience was not, however, associated with a big corporation. Instead, it was a matter of working for William W. “Duke” Simpson, my father.

During my ninth year, at the end of a 24-month stint in the Bay Area of California, Duke decided he’d had enough of northern California and moved his young family back to southern Utah. Not long after the relocation, he borrowed $200.00 and leased a filling station on the southern end of Blanding. Although the business was within the city limits, it seemed a long way from town—logistically and sociologically, rather than geographically.

Parking what we used to call a trailer, now referred to as a mobile home, behind the gas station, we established ourselves on the premises. That way there would always be someone available in an emergency. It was at this point Duke informed Craig, Barry and me that we had been inducted into the family business.

Every school day, the three of us, along with our two sisters, Susan and Cindy, walked the mile or so (without shoes, uphill both ways and generally during a blizzard) to Blanding Elementary. After school Craig, Barry or I took over the petroleum distribution operation, filling gas tanks, washing windows, checking oil levels and inflating or changing tires while Duke searched for additional sources of income. At nine, ten and eleven years of age, we were not experienced in the ways of business, so Duke began to tutor us.

Looking out into the parking lot, Duke would say, “See that trash? Go pick it up. We have to keep this place clean. What kind of message do you think it sends to our customers when we don’t take proper care of things?” We never understood how he could spot the smallest bits of paper at 200 paces when piles of cans, bottles and other discarded items were universally invisible to us, or why it mattered when all too soon the garbage would blow onto someone else's property and become their problem, not ours. Duke was firm, however, so out we trudged—even when it was raining, sleeting or snowing, which was most of the time, even during summer months.

“Don’t eat the inventory, we have to have something to sell”, Duke would advise when he noticed our bellies distended from drinking Pepsi with salted peanuts or consuming too many packages of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. “Always be honest, nobody likes a liar”, he counseled when we were less than forthcoming about how much Pepsi and Peanut Butter Cups we had consumed.

“Always be on time, people are counting on you”, he admonished us when we showed up late for work, missed an appointment or caused our patrons to wait.

It was a long while before we realized Duke was teaching us the skills we needed to succeed. Although we did not pay close attention to Duke’s advice at the time, decades later Barry and I find ourselves directing our children and employees to pick up the trash, keep the property clean, not eat the inventory, be prompt and always be honest. Maybe Paul McCartney was right when he sang, “Listen to what the man said”, and maybe The Man knows more than we thought possible.