by Steve & Barry Simpson
Once in a while, Barry and I have visitors at Twin Rocks Trading Post who say something 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 for most of the year are 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week, and Barry and I 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 we began closing Sundays. Last Sunday, I was out washing the car when Nellie Tsosie drove up in a large Dodge truck pulling a horse trailer.
Nellie is the purveyor of Natural Pinon Cream; that magical, mystical stuff Duke and Barry maintain will cure any ailment and make you younger, smarter and sexier.
Duke tells everybody all it takes to turn your life around is a little dab on your toast each morning. From time to time it is clear our patrons wonder whether it is worth a try. When that happens, I am required to give the customer a wink and explain that Duke is really just joking; the bread is not necessary.
As I scrubbed my long neglected car, 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 attend church and ask forgiveness”, I said.
She cautiously bobbed her head, unsure whether I was serious and certainly not wanting to prejudice her chances of nailing down a sale.
“Well, Grandpa always told me 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 went crazy and moved to Mancos. You just can’t always take the whole package”, she continued.
“Where’s my buddy, Barry”, she wanted to know. “Also gone to church”, I laughed, “he needs more help than I.”
Again she knowingly bobbed her head. She was working hard to convince 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”, I said, “that’s why I will never go crazy and will go straight to heaven when I die. You guys always get the best of me.”
She laughed out loud, acknowledging that I was right.
All the Navajo people around here understand I am an easy mark, so once the deal is negotiated, they request a set of earrings, a ring, a pin or a few dollars for gas. Nellie’s explanation made me feel better, because I have always felt the reason was they knew 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 recent healing ceremony, the medicine man instructed her to get a piece of turquoise whenever she sells us baskets. If she did not, he cautioned, she will surely 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 give her a simple, undistinguished turquoise stone.
“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 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.
About 12 years ago, Cecelia wanted one of my rugs. A customer needed a storm pattern weaving and she did not have time to make it. So we made a deal, Cecelia would leave her squash blossom necklace with me until she received payment for the rug. She would redeem her jewelry.
A few months later she wanted to swap the necklace for a brooch that, like most people here at Twin Rocks Trading Post, were a few stones short of a cluster. I let her take the necklace and put her pin in our safe.
Every month or so for the past twelve years, Cecelia has stopped by to assure me she will come for the brooch and that I must not give up and sell it. During each visit I go to the safe and pull out the, by now well worn, paper sack containing her jewel and show it to her.
After being reassured our arrangement is unchanged, she happily climbs back into the truck and heads home.
Nellie, being the focused type, patiently listened to my story and said, “So, do you need any cream”?
“I can’t buy on Sunday, it’s my day off and I won’t get the redemption I need 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 want to 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.