The other day Priscilla had gone home early, and it was Rick’s off day, so I was alone in the trading post when the telephone rang.
“Can I speak with the manager or someone in charge,” the voice on the other end asked.
“Sure,” I responded, “I think I can help. What’s up?”
“You have one of my mom’s baskets, and I want to buy it. Whatever you want to do on the price is okay,” the caller said.
I retrieved the basket from our display, considered the “Shop in Utah” discount we presently have on all items in the store and gave him a price. He quickly agreed and rattled off credit card information and a shipping address.
The caller’s name is Dorian Rock, and his home is in Michigan, far from Monument Valley, the land of his birth. Having received this information, I decided to ask a few more questions, and we struck up a conversation.
His mother, Eleanor Rock, had been one of our best weavers in the early days of Twin Rocks Trading Post. She had, however, stopped weaving and hadn’t been in the store for at least 20 years. The basket Dorian desired was one Barry and I had long ago set aside.
When Barry retired in 2019, I began to retrieve things from “under the counter.” Early on in my trading career, I learned traders do not have 401(k)s.
Instead, they put things away that can later be brought out to supplement the lean years or help get them through after they quit working.
With that in mind, Barry and I had stashed tightly woven Navajo ceremonial baskets woven by Elsie Holiday, the Black family, and the Rock family; gem-grade turquoise from the old mines; and a variety of other items that attracted us.
When Barry chose to retire early, it all had to come out to fund his exit. His retirement account had matured, and it was time to take action.
The basket Dorian desired was one of those treasures we had set aside. It, however, had a problem that needed to be remedied before it could recirculate.
The weaving was a large traditional ceremonial basket with alternating black and red twined people stitched outside the standard design. The anthropomorphic figures were inspired by prehistoric art found in the Grand Canyon region of Arizona.
This basket was made during the beginning of the contemporary Navajo weaving revolution when local basket makers were starting to experiment with a variety of innovative designs, reaching into all corners of art history for inspiration.
The head of one red stick person had been damaged during storage, so the figure needed to be “re-capitated.” The tag indicated it had been woven by Evelyn Cly, but she assured us it was not one of her weavings. “Probably my sister-in-law Eleanor Rock’s,” Evelyn advised.
I was certain Evelyn was misremembering. The writing on the tag was mine, and it clearly identified Evelyn as the creator.
Notwithstanding the confusion, Evelyn agreed to repair the basket, and the project was quickly completed. The weaving then went up in the store and not long after was posted on our Internet site. That is where Dorian enters the story.
Dorian was injured in an industrial accident in Michigan, so he had become a stay-at-home dad to his three children. Additionally, his mother Eleanor had recently died of COVID-19, so he had been searching the web for information about her history and works of art.
The virus has devastated the Navajo Nation, and his mother was one of the casualties. He mentioned he had seen his mother making the stick figures and attaching them to the basket, so Evelyn was right after all.
It was apparent Dorian had been through a lot lately, and as we talked, I could feel my throat tightening.
Dorian indicated he needed to tend to the kids and signed off.
At that moment, I needed a consultation, so I wandered across the porch and found Frances. I related my story to her, and half-way through she literally shouted, “You can’t charge him for the basket. Give to him!”
It was sound advice, so I returned to the trading post and called Dorian to deliver the news. Unfortunately, we both choked up and I had to end the conference, take a deep breath, and call him back.
The following week, I received this email: “Steve, I wanted to let you know I received the basket this afternoon. I can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am for it.
“My family and I will be forever grateful for your beyond kind gesture. Losing my mom was and is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with, and this basket helps me get one step closer to having some sense of closure.
“Having a piece of her, in a way, in my home is something I thought I would never have.
“Thank you again, from myself and my family, from the bottom of our hearts. Your generosity will never be forgotten.
“Forever Grateful, Dorian Rock and Family.”
Eleanor’s basket had finally arrived at its intended destination.