Saturday, November 16, 2019

A Few Stones Short of a Full Cluster

Once in a while we have visitors to Twin Rocks Trading Post who say things like, "Wow, I am glad I finally caught you open. I have been here several times and you are always closed." Since our official hours are long, and we are usually here early and late, I always wonder how these people consistently arrive when we are closed.

During the winter, traffic through the store slows dramatically, so in late October or early November we begin closing on Sundays. A while back, I was out washing the old Ford on the pad next to the trading post when Nellie Tsosie drove up in a large Dodge Ram truck pulling a horse trailer. Nellie is the purveyor of Natural Pinon Cream, that magical, mystical stuff Duke maintained can cure any ailment and make you younger, smarter, and sexier. Duke told everybody all it takes to turn your life around is a little dab on your toast each morning. Our patrons often wondered whether it is worth a try, and I was required to give them a wink and explain that Duke was really just joking, the bread is not necessary. Just a spoonful of piñon helps the . . . . Well, you know.

As I scrubbed the long-neglected truck, Nellie strode up the front steps and crashed into the locked door. After coming to an abrupt stop, she looked at me and asked, "Closed?" "Yep," I explained. "Why?" she wanted to know. "Because, after taking advantage of the Navajo people all week, I need to go to church and ask forgiveness," I said. She cautiously bobbed her head, unsure whether I was serious or not, and certainly not wanting to do anything that might prejudice her chances of nailing down a sale. "Well, Grandpa always told me that the white traders who take the whole package go crazy when they get to be 55 or 60," she said. "In fact, the one down home did go crazy and moved to Mancos. You just can't always take the whole package," she continued. Nellie was working hard to get me to unlock the trading post and the checkbook. "You know how Grandma is, she always wants you to give her something extra, even after the deal is done," Nellie said. "Yes, I know, that's why I will never go crazy and will surely go straight to heaven when I die. You guys always get the best of me." She laughed out loud, knowing I was right.

All the Navajo people around here understand that I am an easy mark; so once the deal is negotiated, they ask for a set of earrings or a few dollars for gas. Nellie's explanation made me feel better, because I have always felt the reason for their requests was that they know that I am a sucker for a sad face or a good story. I now realized, it is simply a matter of tradition.

Lorraine Black, for example, told us several years ago that during her latest healing ceremony, the medicine man had instructed her to get a piece of turquoise whenever she sold us a basket. If she did not, he cautioned, she would become gravely ill. So, for several months she insisted on receiving a nice pair of earrings to go with her cash. At some point, I decided I could not stand the additional financial strain and suggested I just give her a simple, undistinguished piece of turquoise. "No way," she said. "I need some new earrings." That was when I knew for certain I had been led down the garden path. When she realized the game was up, she just laughed and went on her way, happy in the knowledge her scheme had worked longer than expected.

I reminded Nellie that indeed her mother, Cecelia, had been getting the best of me for a long time. Years ago, Cecelia wanted one of my rugs. Cecelia had a customer who needed a storm pattern weaving, and she did not have time to make it. So, we made a deal, Cecelia left her squash blossom with me until she was paid for the rug. When she received payment, she would redeem her necklace. A few months later she wanted to swap the neck piece for a brooch that, like most of the people here at the trading post, was a few stones short of a full cluster. I let her take the necklace and took the pin. Every month or so, Cecelia would stop by to assure me she would come for the brooch and that I must not give up and sell it. During each visit, I would go to the safe, pull out the by now well-worn paper sack containing her jewel, and show it to her. After being reassured that our arrangement is unchanged, she would climb back in the truck and head home.

Nellie, being the focused type, patiently listened to my story about her mother and said, "So, do you need any cream?" "I can't buy on Sunday. It's my day off, and I won't get redemption if I take advantage of you today," I said. "Oh, okay," she replied and began to walk back to the truck. "By the way, that's a nice T-shirt, do you wanna trade?" she asked. "No thanks, you are trying to get too much of my package," I laughed. "By the way, did Grandpa say you will go crazy if you keep taking advantage of the white traders?" I asked. "No. It doesn't work that way," she responded. I bobbed my head knowingly.

With Warm Regards,
Steve and the Team

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