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Duke

Duke

For years I have struggled to adequately thank my father for the support and direction he provided during my youth. Like most sons of my generation, and all generations that have gone before, I am paternally challenged. Although I have tried in many ways to tell my dad I appreciate everything he has done for me, it never seems to come out right, or at all. If I start to jot down my thoughts, my pen and brain seem to simultaneously stall, creating a practical and emotional logjam. If I try to tell him, I just cannot seem to get the words out. After many failed attempts, I have decided to give it one more try, before one of us leaves this world. This then is mea culpa; my thoughts and confessions about my pop.

Over the past several years I have realized the more I try to differentiate myself from him, the more I become like my father. The more I experience in life, the more I understand what he encountered trying to raise five children in such a challenging environment. After one recent occurrence, I found myself responding in precisely the same way he would have 25 years earlier. My friend Dave always jokes that he frequently looks in the mirror and gasps, “Dad?” I am beginning to feel the same.

As a child growing up in this small town, the two things I remember most are unrestrained freedom and my father working a great deal. My dad, William Woodrow “Duke” Simpson, always seemed to be up early for work, returning home late in the evening. I imagine he must have felt like the mother birds that nest in the eaves of the Twin Rocks Trading Post porch. These mommas are never able to keep up with the needs of their hatchlings. While Duke was scrambling to meet our demands, mother Rose attempted to keep us out of harm’s way and prevent our long-term incarceration.

Duke had a saying that went something like, “Rose, those kids could break an anvil,” which was generally true. As a means of preventing us from destroying what he was trying to build, Duke always managed to keep us busy. If he had been a religious man he may have said something like, “Busy hands are happy hands,” or “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” Instead, he would simply say, “Don’t you have anything to do?” If the answer was “No”, he had little trouble finding projects to keep us engaged. Initially he put us to work as attendants at a small filling station he rented on the south side of Blanding.

When we were at school, Rose and Duke took over. It was not an easy time for any of us. Although I resented the restriction the job placed on my free time, I was happy to have a little folding money in my wallet. I felt like a king when there were a few bucks in my pocket. Duke paid pretty well; a dollar an hour. It was not until much later I realized what those years of running the business taught me.

The filling station was probably the start of our venture into the trading post business, although there are many other influences that may have been the true catalyst. The local Navajo people frequently wanted to exchange turquoise and silver for gas and oil, and that ultimately resulted in the construction of Blue Mountain Trading Post.

I cannot remember how old I was when Duke began taking us on buying trips; possibly nine or ten. What I do recall is that he was always ready to pack up and head out on a new adventure. Sometimes it was a trip to a Colorado auction and sometimes it was a journey to the Phoenix flea market. No matter where we went, we universally had an interesting time. Duke was happy just to be on the road, and we were glad to see new places.

During one of those trips Duke purchased the entire inventory of a defunct shoe store. When he returned home, we had a yard sale that resulted in the shoeing of the entire town, for years. On another occasion he brought home a trailer full of western hats, shirts and jeans. The Blanding clothing market was nearly devastated.

These trips also allowed Duke to introduce us to the pleasures of the wider world. On one excursion to Colorado, Duke and I were driving through Moab when he asked if I wanted a beer. A short time later I was sitting straight up in the cab of the pickup truck with any icy brew in my hand. I could barely contain myself as I popped open the bottle. After one gulp, my excitement was extinguished. The taste was so bitter on my inexperienced tongue that my thirst for beer was permanently quenched. I think Duke knew what would happen, since a similar situation occurred when I acquired an interest in cigarettes.

As I graduated high school and college, I determined to leave Utah and never return. I had had enough of this state and my father’s business, so I left for the bright lights of the big city. I was convinced Duke was not quite as smart as he thought, and not nearly as bright as I. Surely he sees the irony in my coming back to the land, the people and the business he loves. I only hope he sees how much I appreciate the man he is, and the man he has helped me become.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla, and Danny.

Red

Red

 

Sunrises and sunsets over this high desert country are fabulous at this time of year, they often look as if someone took a match and fired-up an entire bank of burners. Ripples of red, orange and yellow dispersed across the heavens warm my bones and afford me great comfort. The deep red tones seen just before dawn and just as the sun sets are the most rich and vibrant. It may sound funny, but because of the added inner warmth and marshaled mental state, my mind often focuses on friends and family.

Navajo Modified Double Ceremonial Basket - Sonja Black (#47)


In Navajo relationships the color red is especially meaningful, it is the color of their people, those who have welcomed us into their culture, tradition and lives. Many have shared with us their artistic aptitude. Their deep skin tones contrast with our "pink" coloration. Because of them, however, we have been able to sustain our trading post and live a satisfying life in this country, which is rife with canyons, mesas and mountains. To the Navajo, red (ltci, ltci', litci 'igi) is a powerful and symbolic color, it represents danger, war, and sorcery, as well as safeguards against such occurrences. In the story of the Hero Twins, First Man gave a prayer stick colored with blue paint and sparkling earth, symbols of peace and happiness, to Child-of-the-Water to watch while his brother, Monster Slayer, went on one dangerous adventure after another. When the warrior got into serious trouble, the prayer stick turned blood red. At the close of the Night Chant participants see the red of the sunset because Child-of-the-Water traveled on darkness when he journeyed to join his brother. The Navajo deity Talking God explained the color as it is represented in the War Ceremony, instructing Monster Slayer, "This [red] represents the blood that will flow on the soil. Both ours and that of our enemy." The color red is also found in ceremonial baskets that symbolize the joining of blood, marriage, children, and family.

The iron impregnated cliffs surrounding our muddy red river valley reminds me of the ancestors of my wife and children, the first white men and women who fought their way across a wild and unruly landscape to establish our fair city. Their story is well known to us, and it goes something like this: "The Lion of the Lord (Brigham Young), he had a sacred plan, to spread the word of wisdom 'cross a wild and ruthless land'. John Taylor followed through when Brigham's days were done; he sent the Saints a packin' to the valley of San Juan. San Juan Hill [the last hurdle into Bluff] was a gut-busting scramble; the trek so far, had worn us to the bone. To go much further was too much to handle, 'Stickety-To-Ti' brought us here, it finally brought us home." There's more, but you get the picture. There was bright red blood on the red rocks of San Juan Hill and on the valley floor before civilization finally arrived in this lonely settlement.

The Simpson family first came to Bluff in the mid-1950s, back when Daddy Duke's hair color was still of a sandy red hue. There have been many a blood red sunrise and sunset since then, and over time our clan has set down roots and grown in this rocky red soil. Some have wished or tried to dislodge us, but our tendrils run deep, and the family tree stands fast. From Susan to Cindy, we have brought forth and raised our children here, and you will find their footprints memorialized in the concrete in front of our businesses. As it says in the chorus of the San Juan Camp song, we were and are; "Never far from failure, we strove to continue, sacrifice was assured to achieve a higher goal. We faced a trial of strength and a test of dedication, stubborn faith and motivation allowed us to endure." And endure we shall until the time one of the towering rocks comes crashing down on us or they place us beneath the grey donies and iron red soil of cemetery hill.

With warm regards from Barry Simpson and the team.
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

The Faux Tree of Love and Life

The Faux Tree of Love and Life

 

Over 20 years ago I found myself knee deep in cold, wet snow on a southern slope of the Blue Mountain searching for, "The perfect Christmas tree." My wife was pining for a tree of the ideal height, symmetry and balance to fit into our living room in a spectacular fashion. Laurie was home with our three very young children and I was taking time off from my labors at Twin Rocks Trading Post to satisfy her wish. I left for work and struck-off in the old Dodge pick-up truck we had at the time. After tossing an ax and a bow saw in the back, I drove up the mountain road. I believed that I could find our tree and be off the flanks of the Blues in record time, but that wasn't working out so well. It seems that perfect trees are extremely difficult to find. I was, however, determined. Laurie had given me three incredible children and I was determined to provide her with a magnificent tree.

Navajo Santa Pictorial Rug - Helena Begay (#061)


That entire day I trudged through snow drifts and flurries. I can't tell you how many times I spotted a likely target, floundered over and discerned the topiary to be lacking in one way or another. It was either too tall, too short, too wide, too thick, too thin or missing branches, causing a gap tooth effect. I was getting frustrated because nothing yet was worth taking home to my bride. Laurie loves the holidays. In fact, she is a festival on hot wheels, a real and true advocate of gifting good tidings and great joy to me and our children. That woman had done more for me than I can ever emulate, and our life together was just beginning. For me, this was an opportunity to do something for her and if I lost feeling in my legs to do it, then so be it. Unfortunately this was not the day to accomplish the goal. As the sun began to set I admitted defeat and drove home to defrost my lower extremities.

Laurie was on to me by now and warned me away from facing fatigue and frostbite, but I would have none of it. That cursed mountain would not deprive my wife and children of a Christmas without perfumed perfection. But it did--for two days more I searched those provoking peaks. The Navajo people believe mountains are hallowed ground, deities dwell within them, they are blessed with plants and animals brought forth by sacred ceremony. Had I ticked- off someone or something of consequence through my dealings with The People and their cultural icons? I would need to check with Priscilla Sagg our sage supervisor in such matters. I did know for a fact that because of my now frequent excursions into these hills the Navajo monster called Cold Woman was beginning to get a grip on me.

Laurie must have decided enough was enough, because she suggested I take the next day off. My self imposed quest for perfection was beginning to get on her nerves. She asked me to go Christmas shopping with her in Cortez, Colorado. "Grandma Washburn will watch the children, it will be nice, come with me," she cooed. I have never been able to resist her charms, so I went along without resistance. While in town Laurie suggested we visit a nursery, she was interested in picking-up some poinsettias. As we arrived I noticed a large grouping of cut Christmas trees in a nearby lot. I told Laurie to go-on inside, I would wander over and compare my ideal image of the perfect tree against these inferior specimens. I walked onto the lot and was startled by the elegance of a stately Douglas fir. It was simply sublime. Voile! Twenty minutes and $100.00 later the tree was tied to the top of our car and my quest for excellence was complete.

Laurie, the poster girl for frugality, was not happy with my excessive expenditure, but I assured her this tree would make our Christmas great. And it did, to a certain extent. Laurie learned that I would do most anything for her and the kids, and I gained a better understanding of how marvelous close relationships can be and the joy children bring into our lives. From that point on though I have been banned from over spending on the holiday experience. The next year my sister Cindy and I were doing a trade show in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, marketing our Native American products to the Eastern Seaboard. One evening after the show closed Cindy and I were out and about in Pigeon Forge, a town a few miles down the road from Gatlinburg. We entered a Christmas store the size of a city block which was lit-up in colored lights, like the Rockefeller Center in NYC. In the central courtyard I saw the very same Douglas fir I had purchased in Cortez, Colorado. The difference was that this one was made of plastic and steel. It was beautiful, but lacked the enticing odor of the real deal. "No worries", said the salesman, "This little aerosol spray will satisfy your olfactories."

A few days older and a tad wiser, I called Laurie on the phone and asked her opinion. I told her this was the biggest and best faux tree for the money; it would last decades and the price . . . only $200.00. A bargain at twice the price. The convincing argument was that it would be a one time expenditure, and I would no longer need to tempt fate and frostbite to prove my affections. Permission was granted. Cindy and I both bought one and had them shipped to canyon country via UPS. That very same tree has been raised and lovingly decorated in our home for 20 years now. Laurie, the kids and I have shared many Christmas seasons under its enduring boughs and the soft warm glow of Christmas lights embracing its form. The kids are mostly grown. Spenser just completed a Masters program with the University of Kansas, Alyssa is wrapping-up her Bachelor Registered Nursing degree at BYU and McKale is serving an 18 month mission for her church in the California, Bakersfield mission. Everyone is well and happy.

That old Douglas fir look-alike is a bit haggard and worn, but Laurie refuses to discard it. She gets attached to things and has a hard time letting go, even when she should. Lucky for me! Laurie and I, and hopefully our children, look forward to many more Christmases with that tree and just maybe, if the future allows, a few grandchildren may experience the warmth and happiness that tree represents to us. All of us here at Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe wish you the best of the holiday season. Be well.

With warm regards Barry Simpson and the team;
Steve, Priscilla and Danny.

A Vegemite Sandwich

A Vegemite Sandwich

 

It was a foggy Sunday morning in the land of turquoise skies and coral cliffs. Consequently, the heavens were imperceptible and a shifting blanket of mist hung over the red rock bluffs. The misty cover intermittently opened to reveal patches of moisture-streaked sandstone and then all to quickly reformed to obscure the red rock escarpment. Priscilla has informed us this is a time when the gods plant seeds that will sprout in the spring. According to her, it is a sacred time.

Having walked the five blocks from our house on Mulberry Avenue to the front doors of Twin Rocks Cafe, Grange arrived for his stint as head cashier. Shaking off the cold, he announced, “Hey dad, this is a beautiful day. I love the fog.” In a wintry, austere, crystalline way, it was indeed glorious.

Not long after the smell of frying bacon began to permeate the restaurant and the open sign was illuminated, a party of three seated themselves at a table next to the kitchen and Samantha took their breakfast order. As I meandered through the dining room, inspecting tables and making sure everything was in order from the night before, I overheard their conversation. The two women spoke with a heavy brogue, which clearly emanated from the Southern Hemisphere.


At Twin Rocks Trading Post and Cafe we make a game of guessing where in the world our customers originate. Over the years we have become adept at identifying countries of origin. Knowing they had to be from one of two places, I stopped by their booth and inquired, “Aussies or Kiwis?” One of the women reached into her coat pocket, and, smiling broadly, brought out an almost exhausted bright yellow tube that prominently displayed the Vegemite logo. Remembering the 1980s song by the Australian new wave rock band Men at Work, I said, “Do you come from a land down under?” To which the trio replied in unison, “Where women glow and men plunder.” At that point we all burst out laughing.

Grange, wondering why we were making so much racket, came to investigate. About that time the man, who was actually from Los Angele's but had previously dated an Australian woman, took the tube and smeared a healthy portion of the dark goo on a piece of fry bread. “He just smiled and gave you a Vegemite sandwich,” the second woman said chuckling at her own joke.

Having only heard of Vegemite, and being somewhat concerned about the bite marks on the scone, I was nervous. The man was, however, insistent and the ladies were obviously having great fun, so, asking if they “Were trying to tempt me”, I took the offering and gulped it down.

Seeing my nose scrunch and my lips pucker in response the bitter taste of the gloppy yeast extract Australians swear is essential for brain activity, fighting fatigue and enhancing all manner of human functions, the instigator sang, “You better run, you better take cover.”

Since Grange was too young to be familiar with the song’s lyrics, he just stood there with a baffled look on his face. Sensing another opening, the man pulled off another hunk of bread and made a smear for him. “He might ‘chunder’ I cautioned. There was, however, no alternative but to comply, so I encouraged Grange to “eat up”.

As they paid their bill and walked out into the fog, I could hear the Aussies singing, “We come from the land down under, where beer does flow and men chunder.” I was clear that in this introduction the gods had planted seeds; seeds goodwill, seeds of cultural exchange; and seeds of friendship that had already blossomed.

Trying to clear up Grange’s confusion, I went to the computer and pulled up the lyrics. As he read the words of the song, I said, “Maybe you’ll meet a strange lady who will take you in and make you breakfast.” Being just 15, he blushed red like the rocks.

With warm regards Steve Simpson and the team;
Barry, Priscilla and Danny.

 

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