Friday, May 31, 2019

Papa Duke

Papa Duke passed on Sunday. Our strong and steady patriarch has slipped away. Dad grew up fast and hard, which taught him how to survive and gifted him with a desire and determination to improve his lot in life. Our father's motto could easily have been "Buy, sell, trade, while focusing on education and personal growth." His slogan, "Just get it done." It would be easy to expound on his success in business, but all one needs do is visit the towns of Blanding and Bluff to witness the ripples of success he had in those beloved backwaters. We believe Dad would rather have had us focus on his accomplishments with family more than anything else.

According to Duke, marrying "Momma Rosa" was the best move he ever made. He called her his "Rose among the Thorns" and cherished her very existence. Six years, and five kids after the nuptials, he and his Portuguese Princess decided enough was enough and began to focus on raising their boisterous brood. Dad's quest for knowledge was inspiring and he passed that passion on to his children, along with a healthy appreciation for hard work and what diligent effort can help you accomplish. One of Dad's favorite sayings was: "If you can't get the job done with the tool you're using, get a bigger hammer."

As a family we accomplished many goals together, built several businesses, and made much personal progress. As time went on, everyone began to branch out and build businesses of their own. Dad complained, "I raised too many 'Type A' personalities, too many Chiefs, and not enough Indians." What did make our father proud was that our family is strongly bonded. We may grumble and fuss with each other, but be assured, we will pull together if the need arises. "Family First!" was something Dad was passionate about.

William Woodrow (Duke) Simpson lived a long and fruitful life. He was loved and respected by his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. His mind was strong and active and his clear blue eyes remained focused right up until the moment he took his last breath. The morning before he passed into the spirit realm, he shared a new idea for a business venture he wanted to undertake with his bride---something about buying a motor home and traveling the RV Park circuit selling American Indian Art to pay his way and see the country. We believe Dad is surely out there, tripping among the stars, making deals, motivating those who have gone before, and building something for us to help him put a roof on and grow when we arrive to be with him once more.

There will be a reception to honor and celebrate Duke's life on Saturday, the 8th of June, at the Centennial Park in Blanding, Utah, from 4-6 pm. Please come join us in saying goodbye to our father and friend.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Art Prices and Rez Values

As I stood cleaning the glass showcases, I heard a car drive up in the parking lot outside the trading post. It was still fairly early, 8:30 a.m., rain had fallen, and the sun was out. I was in a reflective mood. When the wheels of the vehicle stopped turning and the gravel stopped crunching, I heard the door creak open. The car was not that old for a reservation vehicle, ten years or so, but the sound of the door opening told me it had spent time on the dusty, washboard-y backroads of southern San Juan County, Utah. The sound brought back a conversation I had with a Spanish gentleman last week.

The extremely pleasant man and his spouse came into the trading post and began reviewing the items on display. Woodcarvings by Dennis Ross and the pottery of Nancy Yazzie seemed to have captured his attention. After considering their work for a while, he politely asked, "Why are these things so expensive?" He went on to explain he had seen how the Navajo people live, and noticed they generally do not have a high standard of living. Therefore, he could not comprehend why their work was not priced much lower. He undoubtedly noticed the pained look on my face, and quickly elaborated further by saying he had traveled around the world and seen what he considered work of similar quality at significantly lower prices. The scrunching of my face was not because the comments startled me; I have heard the question and his explanation on other occasions. No matter how many times the issues is raised, I still cannot find a satisfactory answer to this extremely complicated issue. "Supply and demand? They want a better life? This is America, not Africa," are usually followed by a quick exit, and, of course, is neither satisfactory nor congenial.

The car door squeaking flooded my mind with images of the Navajo and Hopi reservations, and people I have known over the last thirty years of running Twin Rocks Trading Post. In particular, it reminded me how economically challenging things can be "out here." I have spent time at a Hopi friend's home and seen his grandmother living in what, as an outsider, seemed abject poverty. The old pueblo home had no running water, the bathroom was outside, and the furnishings sparse. After several hours at the house, however, I noticed little things like watermelon and squash under the bed and the happiness of the grandmother and her doting family, eventually realizing real wealth was founded in love and caring, not material items.

Despite my knowledge that there are things more important than money, I painfully understand how difficult it is for many of the artists bringing work to Twin Rocks. Barry and I are constantly walking the line between giving the artists the best possible price for their work and meeting the customer's needs; not to mention making a living for our own families. Frequently we fail, but we keep trying to improve the local economy and the artists' individual circumstances. There is a general perception, as expressed by the Spanish gentleman, that the work taken to produce traditional arts and crafts should not be valued as highly as mainstream services. With my background, it is sometimes difficult for me to comprehend why a Chicago or New York lawyer is worth $500.00 an hour, when the Navajo weaver or Amish quilter commands only minimum wage. Why, I often ask, do people generally fail to recognize a higher value in Native art? The happiness art brings us every hour of every day is invaluable, much like those watermelons and squash peeking out from under grandmother Tewa's bed or the happiness reflected in the faces of her children and grandchildren. Nothing could make us happier.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Weigh Your Words

I was working the lunch rush at the cafe seating customers, schlepping tables, wiping them down, and sweeping floors. "Getting right down to the nutty-nitty-gritty," I was doing my best to "keep the back bar clean and the place looking pretty," while putting out what our restaurant manager Miss Frances calls our very own brand of "Four Corners Comfort Food." From my post at the servers’ station, I felt a presence and looked up into a pair of light blue eyes framed by black and silver horn-rimmed glasses. The elderly ladies’ purple hair was pinned up tight and encircled by a hand-crocheted headband of red yarn decorated with tiny violet flowers. The woman eyed me impatiently and quipped, "There you are." I was certain she was referring to my perceived lack of focus when it came to her wants and needs. 

"How may I help you?" I said with a smile. "A table," she said curtly, "that table for two." She was referring to the table to my left, bounded by two glass walls, still cluttered with dirty dishes and bread crumbs---the only table I had not yet bussed. I looked to the table, back at the long, lean lady dressed in grey gingham and black Mary Jane's, to the other clean tables and began to make a suggestion. "I’ll wait." she said turning away. I hustled to clean the table while maintaining the flow of the place, then seated her. "I will have hot tea, Earl Grey, if you have it with honey and lemon." When I returned with her drink she said in a clipped manner, "My brother should be arriving shortly. I should best be able to witness his arrival from this location. I will let you know when he does."

I left the woman to her tea, thinking to myself how unpleasant she seemed. Just then I saw a well-used and dented, tan Toyota pickup pull into the parking lot. Out hopped an older gentleman with a ruddy complexion along with reddish, grey hair poking out from under an olive green, Indiana Jones-style felt hat. His bulbous belly was encased in a red dirt tee-shirt with Moab emblazoned across the front. His khaki pants and high-top hiking boots showed plenty of wear, but his step was lively and his outgoing nature shown from across the gravel parking lot. He waved and spoke to everyone who looked his way and seemed to be full of fun and life. From the corner of my eye, I saw the uptight lady shift her weight and look in my direction. Turning to her, I raised my eyebrows asking the unasked question. She looked to the man advancing up the steps, sighed deeply, and acknowledged with a nod.

The jolly fellow entered through our restaurant doors smiling brightly, his light blue eyes twinkling with mirth. "Right this way sir," I said. "Your sister awaits." He laughed out loud and replied, "So formal? Has Thea already gotten under your skin?" Because she was sitting so close, I refrained from answering. I brought him to the table then turned to leave, almost getting caught up in their embrace, when he pulled his sister from her chair and gave her a huge bear hug. The action seemed to have embarrassed the woman mightily. She swatted at her brother to stop, reseated herself, and rearranged her dress. Poking at his tummy, she said, "Well Walter, you seem to have gained more weight since I saw you last" "Weigh your words, Thea," said Walter cheerfully. "I am the only friend and family you have left."

Working in the trading post and restaurant business allows Steve and me plenty of opportunity to study people and their interactions. We see how words can affect in a distinctly positive or negative manner. Many people would be better off if they would install a filter between their minds and mouths. The world would be a better place for it. Foresight and a tight lip are the key. We are all aware that words can reverberate for decades. They can do tremendous good, cause wonderful after-effects like joy, strength, and courage---or wound, hurt, and do everlasting damage.    

Thea and Walter stayed and visited for quite a while, probably two hours. As time went on, Walter’s positive attitude and kind words began to affect a change in his sister. She seemed to visibly relax, began to smile, and laugh. She often reached out and touched her brother affectionately on the hand or shoulder. It seemed that whatever Walter was saying and doing was having a positive effect. I was impressed. My distinct impression was that words and actions can be used to build someone up or beat them down. By the time their meal and visit were done, the siblings were getting along famously, Thea was healed. When they stood up from the table to leave, she gave her brother her own big bear hug and wished me a great day just before they went out the doors and down the front steps.

I once heard (and took to heart) a statement that goes: "A closed mouth gathers no foot." Hopefully, my missive does not sound like a sermon, just an observation on a life lesson that impressed me. With help from the interaction I witnessed between Thea and Walter, it is my greatest hope that from now on, I will more carefully "weigh my words," even maintain a positive attitude so that any words that cross my lips will be an improvement over silence.