Friday, August 31, 2018

The Minister’s Wife

It was an early autumn afternoon when the minister ambled into the store. Barry had thrown open the Kokopelli doors, and Priscilla and I were delighting in the cottonwood leaves that were just starting to turn golden. At Twin Rocks Trading Post, we often brake to admire Mother Nature’s handiwork. In fact, we generally break at any time, for almost any reason, sometimes no reason at all.

The minister’s church is on the Navajo Reservation, so he has acquired a fondness for Navajo rugs and turquoise. Consequently, he often stops by to admire our jewelry and weavings. He is in his middle 60s, and his blond-gray hair is always perfectly combed, his denim trousers crisply pressed, his conservatively patterned button-down shirts wrinkle free, and his monotone pointed-toe cowboy boots brilliantly polished.

The parson and I bonded a few years ago when I asked how things were at the mission. “Well,” he responded gravely in his slightly southern accent, “there’s a lot of sinnin’ going on down there. Nothin’ too interesting or unusual, nothin’ we haven’t seen before and nothin’ to be too concerned with; mostly just your garden variety sinnin’. You’d think if folks were goin’ to sin they’d at least be creative about it.” I nodded my head knowingly, appreciating his frankness, and agreeing that a little creativity goes a long way when it comes to religion. We both recognized that a little sinnin’ created job security for the minister without seriously jeopardizing his flock’s salvation. Indeed, he thought it might actually be “good for business.” That was something I understood, so at that moment we formed a kinship and I began to look forward to his regular visits.

On this particular day, his attractive wife and five or six missionaries accompanied him. Retirement was on his mind, and he informed me that in only a few months he would end his long career. He went on to explain that, as a Lutheran preacher, he had built up more than enough credit to ensure his successful entry into Heaven. It was, therefore, time to step aside. He went on to say that he had been on the right path since his youth, and hadn’t done much to offend the Creator.

Obviously concerned for the minister’s spouse, Barry asked, “What about your wife? Does she have enough credit?” “Well, she is a Presbyterian,” the minister responded. Noticing the uncertain look that flashed across Barry’s face, and apparently trying to reassure him things would most likely be okay, he added, “She’s a pastor too.”

At that point I began to fret, and asked if the minister might transfer some of his excess goodwill to his wife, so she could be saved as well. “Kinda’ like trading carbon credits,” I explained. “One person sins a lot, the other not so much. You have abundance, and she may not have enough. In the end, it all balances out, right?” He seemed to think there might be merit in the suggestion and indicated he would take it up with his boss.

Overcome by curiosity, I could not help asking, “What do you think God has to say about a Lutheran and a Presbyterian in the same church?” “Well,” he laughed, “I can tell you this, when we met I wasn’t thinking about her religion.”

By this time the missionaries had finished their inspection, and it was time for dinner. As they walked out into the evening glow, the minister’s wife turned back and with a knowing smile, said, “I think God understands.” 

Friday, August 17, 2018


Dropping into Cow Canyon from the north around 8 a.m. this morning caused me concern. With all the smoke in the air, I first thought something down canyon must be burning. Because I could barely make out the pink cliffs on the far side of the San Juan River, the situation reminded me of cruising through that same rocky rift and falling into a midwinter fog bank. The difference is that it was already 85 degrees outside and the smell of burning wood rushed in my open window. I rounded the corner of Twin Rocks Drive and saw that, albeit shrouded in haze, our businesses which are embraced by a red-rock alcove and topped by the towering Navajo Twins, was still intact.

Since the matching monoliths are both majestic and significant to the Navajo people, they are a constant reminder of the unique and always interesting culture and traditions we interact with every day. Since we were young men, the artists and craftspeople who sell their wares here have told us the stories that inspire their art. We learned of Changing Woman and her mate Johonaee (the Bearer of the Sun), the Hero Twins, Talking God, and Fire God. Early on we were introduced to Mai'i' the Coyote, Changing Bear Woman, and Water Creature. Through the generosity of The People, we discovered their creation stories. Because we believe the people and the story behind the art is significant, we have, naturally and enthusiastically, shared it with buyers and collectors visiting Twin Rocks Trading Post.

The hours Steve and I have spent sitting with Mary Holiday Black, all nine of her children and now their children, have helped us to know them on a family level. The same goes for the Johnsons, Rocks, Yazzies, Clys, Begays, Bitsinnies, and numerous others of our neighbors. They share their creativity, lives, and legends from the Navajo reservation. Through those interactions, Steve and I have been educated to their world and have gained a wide-ranging perspective on the unique character and beliefs of the individual artists.

Occasionally Steve and I have come under fire for "co-opting Navajo culture." Like the smoke from recent fires, these charges make it more difficult for me to get through the haze. The accusations aggravate me, because I feel we endeavor to respect and honor each individual who walks through our doors. I recognize, however, that everyone has the right to his or her opinion, and that when the fickle finger points in our direction, we need to do our best to understand why. It is as important to consider the thoughts of others and is as much our responsibility as it is theirs to grasp our actions.

To the casual observer, our position may seem opportunistic; we do make our living from the trading post and cafe. The truth is that both the traders and the artists depend upon each other for our livelihoods. While doing so, however, we keep an open mind and do what we can to give back. We promote the people, their art, and their culture, and show the necessary respect in the process. It is our hope that the people we represent and work with will grow and prosper right along with us. 

As time goes on, the smoke will clear and the ash settle. When it does, I hope our family will be viewed as individuals who did their best by those we associated with. We have studied the texts of the Navajo People and try to stay abreast of current affairs. We realize there were those who completely misinterpreted and/or mistreated the Dine, and we prefer not to be placed in that category. As I am laid to rest with an image of the Twin Rocks etched upon my monument, I hope it will be a peaceful slumber, with no guilt or malice to bedevil my spirit through eternity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Where the River Meets the Rez

As I have mentioned countless times in our weekly missives (because I am in the repetitive phase), Priscilla and I have been laboring at the Twin Rocks Trading Post sales counter together for just a few months shy of 30 years. While she and I have been here from the inception, Barry, since he was at Blue Mountain Trading Post, our sister location, such a long time, claims he is eligible for inclusion by attribution. Priscilla and I are not so sure, but have agreed to take his petition under advisement. We are presently researching the request, and while we think he may have a 50/50 shot at success, we are not encouraging him. We find ourselves likely loath to allow Barry to horn in on our history. We do, however, want to keep an open mind and foster good relations, so we are willing to accept the possibility that he may actually develop an actionable argument.

In addition to our durational discussions, since Barry and I were delivered to Bluff head first about six decades ago, we are sneaking up on the title of "Old Men of Bluff." Barry, being a little more advanced in age than I, has a leg up and has attempted to assert his advantage. Melvin, our age-old associate from across the avenue is, however, firmly holding on to that esteemed appellation, so Barry’s pronouncements are perfectly pointless.

In his middle 80s, Melvin, but for a stint in the United States Army during the Korean Conflict, has called Bluff home since his own inception, or conception, as the case may be. Melvin is universally loved and admired by the residents of this geographically hidden hamlet. Barry and I are, well, not so much. We are, however, working to improve our image. Indeed, I have registered Barry for Teddy Bear Training, which dovetails nicely with the new Bears Ears National Monument envisioned by President Obama and eviscerated by President Trump. Between his soon to be perfected snuggling skills and the notoriety this area has received as a result of the Bears Ears proclamations, he is hoping to increase his weekly ration of hugs, which is recently retrograde. Priscilla has cautioned him he will be fortunate to get an occasional squeeze from his spouse, let alone a tight waist from a tourist. She has also admonished both him and me that I am unlikely to respond to training of any type so we shouldn’t waste our time or money on that boondoggle.

Priscilla at times thinks she should be considered for the position of "First Woman of Bluff," even though she does not live within the city limits. She does not want anything to do with the term “old” and has therefore amended the title to suit her own needs. Much to our surprise, after working with her all these years, we recently discovered she cannot definitively establish her existence. A while back, for certain undisclosed reasons, she began requesting her birth certificate and discovered that she does not exist. After an exhaustive search of local, state, and Navajo Nation archives, she was determined to be "persona non grata." Nobody can find any record of her birth and nobody will vouch for her arrival onto this earthly plane. Barry and I have consequently suspended her pending a conclusive culmination of this conundrum. How, we wonder, can she even make it to work if she is not extant? And, why should we continue signing her paychecks if she cannot positively prove she is actually here? What are we supposed to do---take her word for it?

Before Priscilla's birther bamboozle arose, Barry and I developed the habit of sitting in the wooden chairs arranged around the showroom until Priscilla arrives and jolts us into action. The idea was to allow time to address riddles such as this. When Priscilla's grandkids are not in town, that might have been around 10:00 a.m. When they are, however, encamped at her camp, it is later, sometimes much later. Between shepherding sheep and serving starving sucklings, it is a wonder she ever escapes.

Barry and I structured these morning "conferences" around old trading post photographs we have seen in historical texts and treatises. We assume that if it was productive for those old timers to sit around, talk, chew tobacco, and drink coffee, it should be for us as well. To date, that theory has not proven positive and all we have gotten is nauseous from snuffing Skoal and squeamish from slurping caffeine. We are not, however, giving up on sitting down. Now that Priscilla has been definitively determined a fiction, we wonder whether we will ever stop talking and actually get to work.

Often when he is not golfing, fishing, or hunting, our unofficial and unordained "Bishop of Bluff" Marx K. Powell, wanders through and weighs in. When Marx, who claims Karl Marx as his namesake, is in on the discussions, they can be an all-day affair. That is because Marx has information about the early days of the Gallup, New Mexico Indian art movement, the history of our small community, and innovative ways to add revenue to the bottom line that don’t involve indictments by the IRS. While his comments can be difficult to decipher, they do from time to time contain valuable nuggets. Marx is the grandson of Claude Powell, early inhabitant of Bluff, and Jack Powell, the widely-known trader from Yah-ta-hey and Black Hat trading posts. With a background like that, we figure he must know something, although we are conflicted about what that might be.

As the Priscilla predicament has persisted, customers are not being counseled, silver is not being sold, and turquoise is not being transferred, not to mention that Priscilla is not getting paid. This, of course, has created a crisis since cash is not collected or properly distributed. We have mentioned this to Marx, since he has offered sensible solutions to past problems, but even he is stumped. Barry has recently been looking into crowd sourcing to raise funds to lessen his liabilities, so he proposed using that vehicle to repopulate Priscilla. We are open to any suggestion, so post your postulations on #provide-priscilla-a-birthday. We look forward to receiving your advice.  

And that, as they say, is the news of note from the land where the River meets the Rez: Bluff, Utah, United States of America. And, where Barry and Steve stoically sit in anticipation of an answer.