My friend gave me an elaborate wrist silver bracelet with turquoise and agate and several bear claws with an incidental watch set into the silver. “You’re the only person I know who would wear this,” she said. She bought it for her father, as far as I understand, and when he passed it sat in a drawer. She has excellent taste and I knew that if she bought it, bought it for her father, it was an object dear and I took it as that. Now that she had passed too I wanted to wear it.
The watch must be replaced, however, and I haven’t found a suitable replacement. It’s a size of watch that is not much in fashion anymore, plus I think it should be a good mechanical watch so I won’t have to replace the battery every few years. It’s not simple to take the watch out of its silver setting.
I carried it around in my bag at home and every so often when I would pass a jewelry store with a few minutes I would look for a watch. I haven’t found a suitable watch as yet.
Just before I left for this road trip, I took the watch out of my bag. “I’ll get at this when I return,” I thought.
On the way across southwestern America, I have talked to a dozen people who could have told me everything about that bracelet. I described the bracelet and the kind artisans asked me a dozen questions I couldn’t answer; I didn’t have the piece and didn’t know much its history. There is history to such pieces.
I stopped in Gallup, New Mexico, an interesting town almost to the border with Arizona; I was told by merchants along the way that all their Native goods came from Gallup.
In Gallup, I entered a store called Ellis Tanner trading company. The name intrigued me. It’s a trading post, dealing in jewelry, rugs, Native medicines (I saw buffalo parts ground for heart ailments, love potions, etc.), new artists, and pawned goods. It also works much like a pawn shop.
Everyone in the cavernous barn-like trading post was a Native person it seemed to me. The owner of the trading post is the fourth generation of his family. He first came West with Brigham Young and settled the area. The Native name given to him had to do with “great bear.”
I walked into the trading post and stopped stunned, under my breath I said quietly to my son, “Jake, what is this place.” I stood there for a few moments assimilating the vibe. What is this place.
Individuals who worked behind the many counters were dealing quietly with other individuals who had brought pieces in for them to look at, evaluate, deal. I wandered over to a counter with display cases loaded with turquoise and silver pieces, some of them looked to be quite old. A very heavy-looking dude came over and asked in the most gentle upper register voice, “what are you looking at?”
What is this place? I whispered to no one in particular, still stunned by the vibrational setting. These are out of pawn, I think he said, myself still somewhat stunned by an environment I had never experienced before, in other words they were pieces that people pawned and never reclaimed.
There are a lot of stories here, I said again under my breath. Oh yes, said the heavy dude, many stories, in the pieces and the people who brought them here. He was kind and his voice gentle and he seemed to have as much time for me as I was willing to take.
Jake and I were the only non-Native persons in the place. I was wearing a nice pair of gringo boots for rock ‘n rollers that could be mistaken for the real thing, a nylon ventilated floppy sun hat that I shaped into cowpoke form, old jeans, a very tasty Larry Mahan cowboy shirt with mother of pearl snap buttons, and carrying a carved walking cane I bought from one of the stores down the road that has both a hygenic advantage lifting weight from my sore ankle and a serious fashion affectation I may never give up. So maybe I didn’t look like, you know, who I am, a person native to an area 7,000 miles around the world.
Or maybe they looked inside and perceived my awe and interest and respected whatever experience I was having in their trading post. I had never seen a place like this. It was not like a jewelry store, though it was full of jewels and metal and bead work. It was more like a saddlery, with saw-dusty floors and display cases bulging with goods. A thousand stories, some I am sure of the high art of investing handiwork with spirit, and a thousand others of suffering and decline and the necessity to unload the jewelry for a few bucks to pay for what.
Everybody I talked to in the trading post engaged me absolutely and though the place was occupied with activities, there was not a person I spoke with that I felt any sense of being distracted from their business.
A woman came in and the heavy dude I was speaking with clearly knew her and he said to her in the gentlest, quietest way: Hello Carol. He said it with an intonation I hope I never forget so I am closing with this: Hello Carol, he said, breathy, soprano, respect, who was Carol could have been another worker in the trading post he sees every day, could be his cousin, could be someone off the desert who often traded her goods there, I had no sense of who Carol was to him but he greeted her in a way that I will greet the Sabbath Bride tonight with my first offering.
Hello Kallah, Shekhinah, Bride, Malkhut, welcome; I am preparing for the next chapter.
I’m a writer, I said to another of the individuals working the trading post. I would like to come back here spend a week and stand around and listen to the stories of this place.
That would be good, the man said. There are stories here.