Miscue



Steve speeds down the road in his rental car. His fingers tap the steering wheel in time to the country music on the radio. He laughs, inwardly, as he thinks, not much longer, the reservation must be coming up soon. Sure enough, there is a sign ahead ‘Badger Reservation Entrance’. His foot hits the brake and as the car slows and turns right his smile grows larger. I’m here – soon, Joseph Eagletree will be my client – the world will see his genius and I’ll be recognized as the man who made him famous. As he moves down the road he looks around and his smile fades. This has to be one of the most desolate places I’ve ever seen. Where is everyone? There is nothing here. I don’t even see any … He finally sees a few buildings ahead and he pulls up in front of the first. It is a low concrete building with a few small windows and a door with a sign over it ‘Clan Trading Post’. The door is closed with no sign to indicate hours. He pushes against the door, which releases abruptly, and he stumbles in. The light is dim and it is a few seconds before he can make out his surroundings. His eyes scan the room; shelves everywhere, but most hold few items. The room itself is dirty and gray with no hint of color. The store is empty. This is the most barren store he has ever seen. – No color, No light - Where is their stock? Don’t they know how to provide a proper atmosphere for selling things? - Shouldn’t the door be locked if the staff isn’t here? - Why would anyone come into this place?
A soft voice interrupts his musing, “Can I assist you?” Startled, he turns to see a woman behind the glass counter.
He strides over to her, holding out his hand. “Hello, I didn’t see you here. I’m so glad to see you. My name is Steve James. I’m from Virginia, - an art collector – looking for special examples of the arts to sell in my stores.” As he speaks, he takes her hand and shakes it vigorously, to show his sincerity and pleasure.
She slides her hand from his, and nods, solemnly. “How can I help you? I’m not an artist.”
Steve smiles at her, “I’m looking for Joseph Eagletree. He does live near here doesn’t he?”
She nods, “Yes, he lives on the reservation”.
Steve thinks: She’s so unfriendly – Why – perhaps she doesn’t like strangers or want us on her reservation – That doesn’t make sense – no one would choose to live on a place like this – surely she wants to get out

She again asks, “How can I help you?”
He stares at her for a second. “Can you tell me where he lives?”
“Is he expecting you?”
“No, I got to see his work when I visited the Santa Fe art show and they tell me that he lives here and doesn’t have a phone. His work is so wonderful that I decided to drive down and talk to him. Can you tell me where to find him?”
She nods. “He’s a traditionalist, you know. There isn’t exactly an address. We don’t have street signs, or house numbers and most of our roads are dirt.”
“Yes, I can understand that, but surely you can give me directions.” Steve again wonders – Why does she dislike me so – because I’m an outsider – why should this be so hard – Perhaps if I bought something – She can’t make any money in a place like this – Can that be part of the problem?
- He looks around, and his eyes settle on a small pottery bowl. “That bowl looks nice, may I see it?”
She reaches for the bowl, as she says, “This is old and cracked, I doubt you would be interested in it. Do you want me to draw you a picture of how to get to Joseph’s?”
“Please” Steve almost begs – at least, that’s progress – What do you suppose she means about his being a traditionalist – Perhaps he’s so poor he can’t have a phone – What a terrible way to have to live -
“Can I have some water, my throat is very dry.” She looks up from her writing and nods to a doorway in the sidewall. “Help yourself.” He walks through the door to find a small grocery. There are sacks of corn meal, flour, sugar, salt, cans of vegetables and fruit and various other food staples. One shelf holds a variety of unwrapped breads and other baked goods. A refrigerator holds soft drinks, bottled water, milk, juices, and eggs. He can buy some of these things. He quickly loads his arms with food and drink, which he places on the counter. As he looks around to see if there is anything else, he notices another doorway. Inside, he sees shelves filled with beautiful pottery, leather hangings and shields, some jewelry and many pieces of sculpture. These are things he is interested in. “Are these for sale? They are wonderful. Who makes them? Could I talk to the … Where would I find …” His mind boggles at the possibilities – Why aren’t they on display up front? - What is going on - Why are these pieces hidden? It’s almost as if she doesn’t want to sell them? Is that possible? Doesn’t she realize what a gold mine she has?
She appears in the doorway, wearing a soft smile. She feels relieved as she thinks - At least he recognizes quality when he sees it.
“Those are pawn pieces. I don’t sell them without asking the owners what they want me to do. Most of them are made by the People. It will take some time to contact the owners. Please show me which pieces you are most interested in? I will try to get in touch with them and you can come back another time for answers. Perhaps you could give me your address and I could let you…”
He interrupts her to say, “I like everything, but these shields and that sculpture and that one and this pot and any of these turquoise pieces … I would buy anything you have here – or all of it. Someone has a great eye for beauty.”
“Thank you. It will take weeks to find all those people, but check back periodically and I can let you know. Most of our clan members are traditionalists, so they will need to make some serious decisions. Do you still want these groceries?”
Steve hesitates, his mind still on the beauty surrounding him. “Yes, of course.” he replies. None of this makes sense – The objects in this room are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars – Why isn’t she selling them – why is she living like this? - Doesn’t she realize what she has here? - Shouldn’t she be excited, by my offer, or at least interested?
“Who selects these pieces? Might he be interested in working for me? I can use help in discovering art and new...”
She cuts him off. “That’s not possible. The groceries are $22.40. There is no tax here.” She puts the groceries in a box; there don’t seem to be any grocery bags. As she counts out his change, she hands him a piece of paper. “I hope my directions are clear enough. Finding your way around the reservation isn’t easy, but ask someone if you get lost.” With those words, she turns back to the front room, obviously dismissing him.
As he leaves, he grimaces at the blow to his ego. Most women find him interesting. Meanwhile, she stands in the store thinking. What a rude man – grabbing my hand like that! - He doesn’t know anything about us - and – he is so condescending - and – and - - Who is he to offer me a job –No, not me, he assumes only a man can recognize the beauty and value of the pawn pieces – Do you suppose he knows what pawn is? He certainly doesn’t belong here. - Joseph will hate him – I’ll just wait to see if he comes back
Steve puts his groceries in the car, opens a drink, sits outside and thinks about her directions. He remembers her saying ”Most of the people are at work, so you may not see any signs of them in the middle of the day. I’m also not sure when Joseph is home. He may be visiting.” Steve wonders what he will do if he gets lost. There is not a street name or store listed anywhere on the page. He continues reading her directions. Drive straight ahead to the first intersection – There are 3 houses there, Turn right onto the paved road – it will turn to dirt. About ¼ mi. after the dirt begins, turn left – there is a falling down trailer there - Drive about 3 miles and you should see the Church of the Light – keep going for another mile to the intersecting dirt road – it is at the end of the fence on your right. Turn right and follow the road until you come to the 3 trailers near one another. Straight ahead another ¼ mile is Joseph’s home.
As he starts his car, Steve suddenly realizes that he didn’t get her name. He heads back into the store. Opening the door, he remembers how it stuck and doesn’t stumble this time. He calls out “Hey, I don’t get your name or how to call you. Here’s one of my cards, if you want to reach me.” By this time, he realizes that she’s not here. He looks around, but there is no sign of her – and there is no phone – so he scrawls a note on the back of his card and leaves it on the counter. He will check back after talking to Joseph.
Restarting the car, he follows her directions. What a forsaken place, there’s no sign of life, no birds singing in the trees, not even any dogs or cats or even a squirrel.
The few houses he passes look dismal, they need paint, and grass in front and the windows need washing. The furniture, on the porches looks as if it will fall down if someone sits on it. Several of the houses have an old tire swing on a tree branch, but even the swings seem unsafe – the ropes seem old and frayed. There are a few trees, but they aren’t healthy. The leaves are wilted and drooping; what were once flowering plants are dried out and the few vegetable garden plants have dried leaves and look as if the plants will die before vegetables can be harvested. Why don’t they take care of their property? – Can’t they water their gardens? Or paint their porches? If I live here I’d - - Don’t any of these people have any pride? Why aren’t they working to make their lives better? The road gets rougher and he realizes it is dirt, as her directions indicate. He passes occasional trailers and houses as he follows her directions. True to her warning, there are no street signs, names, numbers or stores. Where do the people who live here work or shop? Aren’t there any children? – There isn’t any sign of schools or playgrounds – He doesn’t understand it. Finally, he passes the 3 trailers and knows Joseph’s house is just ahead.
He speeds up and stops in front of his destination. The house is small, but seems to be freshly stained and the porch and stairs are clean and welcoming. Smiling, he jumps out of the car, leaps up the stairs two at a time and knocks on the front door. There is no doorbell and there isn’t a screen door. There is no immediate answer to his knock, so he knocks again, harder. Perhaps Joseph hasn’t heard him. This is so important that Steve can’t conceive of Joseph being away.
He shrugs at his own absurdity, and figures he will just wait here on the porch. Joseph won’t mind. After all, Steve is here to offer him the chance of a lifetime. He is about to change Joseph’s life.
Joseph is inside his home and does hear the banging on his door, but this is his home and he feels no obligation to answer the rude summons
. This caller isn’t one of the People, or an outside friend, they know enough to wait for recognition and an invitation to enter. Never would they be disruptive and bang like this. When he gauges enough time passes, Joseph slowly opens his door and steps onto his porch, his dog pushes out behind him. Steve jumps up. “Hello, you must not have heard me - My name is Steve James. I’m from Virginia, - an art collector – I’ve traveled all this way to meet you.” As he speaks, he takes Joseph’s hand and shakes it vigorously, to show his sincerity and pleasure. Joseph doesn’t want to be rude, but he snatches his hand away. Doesn’t this person know that I am a traditionalist and do not touch anyone. Does he think I invited him? Who is this? How did he find me? What does he want? I suppose it will be best if I find out. “What can I do for you? Did someone send you?”
Steve beams, “I came to do something for you. As I began to say, I love beautiful art and have a number of stores where people who appreciate fine work can see and purchase it. Last week, in Santa Fe, I bought some of your pieces and am enchanted with them. I would like to become your agent. Your work is so exciting that anything you make will sell easily.” Steve is so excited his words trip over each other. Some worldly businessman he has turned out to be. Joseph stands there quietly, not responding in any way. Steve wonders if he understands. “I can make you rich, beyond your wildest dream. You will be able to move and buy a place with all modern conveniences. You can have the finest studio with all the materials and tools you want. I will make you famous.”
Joseph still stands there quietly, not responding in any way. Finally he speaks “I have to think on this, I will let you know.” And he turns to go inside. Steve is stunned – “Do you understand what I am offering – you don’t know how to reach me – There is so much more for me to tell you and I want to show you pictures of my stores …”, but Joseph has already vanished.
Steve sits down, badly shaken. For several moments he is too surprised to move. What should he do now? He walks to his car, opens a soft drink and stands next to the trunk drinking it. He needs to figure out what to do next.
This man has too much talent to just walk away. The world deserves to know Joseph Eagletree’s work. I could return to the trading post, but I don’t seem to be welcome there either. What’s wrong? This isn’t the way artists respond to my interest. Clearly Joseph wants to display and sell his art. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have had work on display at the Santa Fe gallery, during show week. The gallery doesn’t have a long-term contract with Joseph, just rights to display and sell the three pieces of his work. His reluctance isn’t based on other commitments. There must be a way to ….
Joseph leans against his door. What have I gotten myself into this time, he wonders. I never meant for someone to show up and disrupt my life. This is my own fault. Did I make a mistake in taking my work to Santa Fe? I can use the money and I need to see how people react to my work. I would like the world to see my work – it would be ok to be respected, too. -- -- I can’t do this, my life will be disrupted - more important my work may be disrupted! Why does it have to be this loud, unrespectful, outsider?
If only I didn’t need to create, how much easier my life would be - - That’s funny, if my mother should hear me, how she would laugh I can almost see her now, her short, round body doubled over shaking, her voice almost melodious in her laughter – then she would have twisted my ear and reminded me that the Great Spirit gave us each some gifts and we have to use them or we will be miserable, unhappy, useless people. I can almost hear her voice reminding me of my responsibility. Uncle Joe would have been even louder and more vociferous. “You do what the Great Spirit wants you to do,” he would have said. I could never argue with Uncle Joe,
Joseph thinks. He taught me everything: – the need to keep our traditions –my role within the clan – the teachings of the people.
How can I do both?
Joseph wonders. My work needs to be seen – at least I need it to be seen – I want it to be seen and I need people to admire my vision. The words ‘shallow’ –‘ truth’ –‘ a burden’ –‘a gift’ all enter my mind. It’s as if there’s an argument going on between different parts of my brain. There are so many dimensions to this situation - all right, so this is something I must do, but how? I must also isolate myself; not spend time in talk with explanations and being nice to people – there must be something…
Slowly, Joseph walks to his chair and slumps down. He tries to calm himself enough to think properly – he smiles, if I were in the outside world the phrase would be ‘think straight’, but my people know that the world works in circles and spirals. ‘Think circles’ - ’ Think spirals’ - - how would everyone react if I start to speak like that – sometimes I even amuse myself
. Joseph continues to feel as if the conflict in his thinking is tearing him to pieces. Suddenly he jumps up; he knows what to do.
He opens the front door and beckons Steve in. What a relief. Something in the poise and quietness of this artist commands Steve’s attention. He wonders what might happen as he follows Joseph’s lead. Unsurely, he enters the house. Why did Joseph relent? What should I do now?
Steve feels as if his future hangs in the balance.
Before Steve can open his mouth, Joseph says, “I will speak first, then you can think on what I say.” Joseph leads them into the kitchen and puts the kettle on. “Tea, coffee or perhaps a soft drink?”
“Coffee is fine, black with some sugar.” Joseph sets out cups, tea and instant coffee. He opens a wooden chest and takes out some small cakes to have with the drinks.
Once they are seated, with their drinks and cake, Joseph resumes speaking. “I am pleased you appreciate my work. I must tell you though; I have strong reservations about an arrangement between us. It is not clear that such a thing will work. As you may have noticed, I am a very private person. My being is sustained by my work and nothing can be permitted to interfere with that…”
“I understand …” Steve begins, but Joseph holds up his hand and Steve subsides.
“If you are to handle my art, we must be quite precise about the working arrangements and even then … my work is my own. It will be my choice of subject, my choice of medium, my choice of size and my choice of colors. You can have no say.”
By now Steve is bursting with ideas. He grabs hold of the chair seat to keep from jumping up, but barely manages to keep still. Joseph smiles in recognition of Steve’s efforts.
“I’ll be finished soon,” he promises. “I live a very quiet, solitary life. That is my choice. My way of living provides sustenance for my work. My needs are few, except my need to create. That is necessary. However, I now find that I may have a need for my work to become known. If that were not true, you would not still be here. But there are so many conditions … perhaps we should … would you like to see some of my work before we talk about possible arrangements?’
Steve is just beginning to believe that Joseph might agree to an arrangement … He needs some time to assimilate what Joseph has been saying, so he nods enthusiastically.
First Joseph leads him into the main room. One wall is entirely covered with a mural that has been painted directly on the wall. The other three walls are covered with Joseph’s drawings and painting. Steve slowly steps closer. His eyes light up and he gasps at the beauty which surrounds him. One large painting of a bear standing on its hind legs clawing at the bark is so real Steve almost needs to step out of its way. The painting of a hawk makes Steve feel as if the picture by itself can teach him how to soar and glide. The drawing of two small children helping a third to walk, brings tears to his eyes. Everywhere Steve looks each picture outdoes the last. “It is like being in a great museum.” he murmurs.
Watching Steve, Joseph is both pleased and worried
. He sees what I wanted people to see in my work, Joseph thinks. He is an outsider, but he does understand and appreciate what I do. He is capable of showing my work to the world. This means I cannot ignore him or send him away.
Steve moves around the room like a child in a candy store, from one sketch to a painting to a charcoal drawing. One picture in vibrant color, the next muted in forest greens, browns, and blues. Each piece displays a view of the natural world. (Steve smiles to himself. He must be picking up attitudes from his host. Before today he would have used the word ‘nature’, but ‘natural world’ seems to fit Joseph’s world better.)
Steve finally turns and looks at Joseph who says, “Would you like to see my studio?” At Steve’s nod, he goes out the front door and over to a small building hidden behind the house. Here, there are large windows and a skylight. Most of the work here in the studio is in progress. Sketches are tacked up everyplace; there are a number of easels standing around the room. Three have work on them; they are at different stages of completion.
This room seems interesting to Steve. It gives him a feeling of providing shelter and protection while allowing him to be a part of the surrounding land. Steve wonders at his unusual, for him, reaction. “Have I been mesmerized?” he wonders. “This room feels very nurturing. Wow, what a strange notion for me to have -“
Joseph interrupts his musing. “Shall we go back and complete our conversation?” As they stroll back, Joseph points out a strange small structure and says, “That’s my hogan.” Steve glances toward it and files the word away, he has no idea what it means but plans to look it up. They reach the porch and Joseph indicates they should sit. He begins to speak. “Your response to my work pleases me, you seem to understand what I want to convey. The atmosphere in the studio also seems to influence you and that is good.
IF we can work out a way, I will be glad for you to show my work.”
Steve’s smile lights his face. he stands, intending to shake Joseph’s hand, but Joseph puts his hands up to convey his wish to not be approached.
“I am traditional. We do not touch, unless it is necessary. However, I am glad you are pleased. I must see if this is possible … can you come back in three days? That allows me enough time to see what can be worked out.”
Steve sits there, puzzled. “Don’t you want to see what I can do for you? I can show you photographs…”
“None of that is necessary. You are the right person, if anyone is. I see it in your response to my work, but there are things I need to try to work out. In three days I shall know what is possible.”
Steve gives in. “Do you know of a place I can stay? Is there a motel near here?” Joseph nods. “I will provide you with directions – tell them you are my guest. They will treat you well.”
Suddenly remembering the girl from the trading post, Steve asks if Joseph knows her. “Yes, her name is Jane Otterman. She is a friend of mine; she tends to be possessive of her friends.
At least, I know her name,
Steve thinks. “I seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot with her. She dislikes me and refuses to sell me any of the pieces she keeps in the back room. What did she … Oh yes, she called them pawn pieces. I don’t know what I did to set her off. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might approach her next time?”
Joseph laughs aloud. “I can just picture the two of you meeting that way – perhaps I’ll even draw it. When you go back – be respectful – she is a traditionalist, too – do not shake hands or touch her without her permission. It would be best if you let her initiate any contact. Keep your voice low and temper your enthusiasm; that will help her accept you. By the way, pawn is something the owner leaves in exchange for a small amount of money or supplies. While Joan may legally sell the pieces, she will feel a moral need to see what the owners want to do before letting you, an outsider, buy the pieces. – Tell her you may be working with me – perhaps that will relieve her mind – Offer to drive her to talk to the owners.” Joseph frowns, obviously trying to remember something. “Oh yes, try to get a jeep or truck or something heavy – the roads are poor and heavy is better – keep extra oil, gas, water in the car. - Better put in some blankets, food, drinking water and a heavy jacket - cars break down all the time –
“If you’re going around with Joan try to get some heavy walking boots – more comfortable and you’ll stand out less. Good luck with her, remember keep it low key - You shouldn’t have trouble at the motel – see you Friday around midday”
“Thanks again Joseph. I’ll definitely be here Friday.”
Easily following the directions, Steve arrives in the motel parking lot about 30 minutes later. As Joseph has predicted, using his name gets Steve a good room with a comfortable bed and plenty of hot water. The rate was very reasonable, as well. The owner even invites him to join his family for dinner.
As soon as Steve’s car is out of sight, Joseph pulls out his cell phone and calls Lisa. After their normal small talk Joseph gets to the point. “Lisa, I need your help or your advice if you can’t help. Will you make some time for us to talk? Lunch tomorrow – I’ll pick you up and pay for it.”
Lisa pauses to consider her commitments. “Lunch tomorrow is fine – 12:30 OK?’
“Good, we’ll go to town – get a good meal”
“Joseph, what’s going on – is something wrong? You’re worrying me, you never need help.”
“Tomorrow. I’ll explain everything then – and I DO need you” – Joseph pauses as he considers what else he needs to say - “Oh yes –better keep Friday afternoon clear – in case things go as I hope. – in case”
Joseph disconnects the phone, plugs it into its charger, and sits back in his recliner. Things seem to be going my way – today has been a roller coaster, but for now everything is progressing as I want – tomorrow may help my deepest dreams come true and Lisa’s life can be made better, too
. He closes his eyes and sends out a prayer of thanks to the Great Spirit, who has sent him this wonderful day.
In the morning, after greeting the rising sun, Joseph enters his studio. Looking around he decides to begin a sketch of Steve’s first meeting with Joan. When he finishes perhaps he will create its mate – Joan meeting Steve. While he tries to capture the scene he sees in his mind’s eye he ignores all distractions. He works rapidly and three hours later is signing the drawing and spraying it with fixer. He returns to the house, changes into presentable clothes – clean, pressed chinos, a long sleeve pure cotton shirt, polished boots and a denim jacket. Before he steps from the house he grabs his keys and wallet from the holding gourd bowl near the door and pauses by his feather holder. He selects his best hawk feather to take as a gift. Opening the door he remembers the sketch he plans to take and detours to his studio to pick it up. Finally, he jumps into his jeep and heads for Lisa’s. Driving along his thoughts remain on his just completed drawing. He mentally draws the companion piece. He chuckles aloud at his image of Joan as she copes with Steve’s arrival in her shop.
Before he notices, half an hour has passed and he is at Lisa’s door. She is waiting and opens the door as soon as the car stops. He brings the feather and drawing with him. It is a sketch of her daughter learning to make tortillas.
Lisa smiles, in pleasure, at the gifts and laughingly says, “A sketch AND your best hawk feather – this must be some favor you ask –will I have to sell my soul? What is it you want me to do anyway?”
Joseph gestures to the door as he replies, “We can talk of that later. For now, just let me enjoy your company. I don’t see enough of you since you married and moved here.”
Helping her into the jeep, he grins at her and says, “Are you having pleasure with your mate and daughter? Tell me how your life is progressing.” As they head for the restaurant he encourages her to bring him up to date on her current activities. When they arrive he comments, “you seem very content and satisfied. Not at all the woman of three years ago. I am very glad for you.”
“That was a bad time, but things are much better now. We have made our peace and are happy.”
“Are you working?” Steve asks.
“Not much, just help out at the council house and sometimes when a phone operator or receptionist is away, I fill in.”
Just then the restaurant owner, Danny, comes over and leads them to a large corner table – he smiles as he says, “Everything is as you asked – this table is out of the way enough? What shall I bring to drink?” Joseph looks at Lisa –“Fruit Juice or Tea?”
“Iced tea with lime would be lovely.”
Joseph turns to Dennis “Make that two.”
After he signals the waiter, Danny says, “Before I leave you to your meal, I must tell you how much pleasure and business your painting of my restaurant brings. All my customers comment on it – and they are beginning to comment on my having an ‘Original Joseph Eagletree’. You make both of us famous, my friend. Now I will leave you to enjoy your meal.”
Lisa smiles and teases “An ‘Original Joseph Eagletree’, eh, - how many sizes larger is your hat these days?”
Joseph just shrugs, but the look on his face reveals his pleasure at the praise. The drinks come, along with a large plate of assorted appetizers.
“What have you done?” Lisa asks, “This looks like a feast. It is enough for six of us. This must be a big, big favor you ask.”
They banter back and forth enjoying each other’s wit and good humor, but it is obvious that Lisa’s curiosity will burst if some explanation isn’t forthcoming.
“All right” Joseph finally relents. “I’ll tell you what is happening.” He rapidly tells her of his trip to Santa Fe to leave three paintings at the best gallery. Then, he proceeds to describe yesterday’s events. Describing his initial reaction to Steve and his subsequent, reluctant appreciation of Steve and what Steve can do to sell his work. “That’s why I have a problem,” he explains. “I can’t deal with Steve. He is too loud and brash and intrusive. I can’t respond to his questions or even talk to him about what would be best to sell. I don’t want to have to think about setting prices. My work will suffer. I must do my work and live quietly.” He stops speaking and waits for her comments.
Lisa resumes her meal and is quiet for several minutes. “Why haven’t you just said no? - Oh, I get it, you do want him to sell your work, but you don’t know how to keep him from taking over your life. Is it because he’s an outsider? You have always preferred to deal with one of the people, haven’t you?” Joseph’s broad smile tells her how accurate her guesses are. She continues to slowly eat, barely noticing that the appetizer platter had been replaced with the plate of lamb and vegetables in front of her. Abruptly she laughs. “I know – you want me to deal with this Steve person for you.”
“Exactly! If you have the time and could manage a trip every three or four months, it will be an ideal solution. You don’t mind talking to people like Steve – after all, you married one. You can come by and look at what I’ve completed – even take photographs if they will help. I trust you completely – you can decide prices and things like shows and frames and anything else he needs. I won’t need to be involved at all.”
By this time, Lisa is unable to hold her laughter inside. “Whoa, slow down, it’s too much – let me think.”
Visibly tamping down his enthusiasm, Joseph tackles his desert. He can wait – especially since her expression tells him she will find a way to do this. As if by mutual consent, they change topics to speak about their friends.
As they finish the meal, Danny comes over and asks, “Was everything satisfactory?”
“Everything was perfect – tell Jimmy [the cook] how fine his cooking is. Your preparation and service are first rate – I will send all my friends here when they want somewhere special to dine.”
Lisa smiles at Danny and says, “Me, too – Actually, my husband will love it here – we’ll come soon.”
When Joseph looks for the check Danny refuses to give him one. “This meal is a gift, to show my gratitude for our friendship”
“Well, thank you again. Your effort would have been gift enough. I am grateful.”
The ride to Lisa’s is quiet. Each of them lost in their own thoughts. She will speak when she is ready and he cannot push her. She must do what is right for herself and her family. Back at her home, she invites him to come in, but he declines.
“I have things to do at home and the dog is still locked inside.”
She laughs and inquires about why the dog is inside – “you don’t live in an area where traffic or people are a threat”. Joseph shrugs in agreement. “What time Friday is your outsider coming?” Lisa asks.
“Midday. He is so enthusiastic, he will probably show up early.”
“I will come between ten and ten thirty. OK? – my daughter will be with me – you can give her something to draw with – We will set rules, before Steve comes.”
“Yes.” Joseph wants to yell – but he never yells – “We will do this! I know we will.” He does a few steps of the victory dance before jumping into his car and driving off.
Smiling, Lisa steps into her house. She is pleased and hopes her husband won’t object. They’ll talk it through tonight. After all, extra money will mean some luxuries and the rest can be put aside for the future. What a novel idea for a Native, she thinks.
*** *** *** ***
Steve has an enjoyable dinner with the motel owner and his family. They are pleased for both Joseph and him, and they don’t seem as touchy as Joan and Joseph are. When he mentions some of the problems and mistakes he has made, they are sympathetic. After dinner, sitting in the living room, with them, he relaxes. It feels as if this is the first time, all day, that he can be himself. His hosts explain some of the native beliefs, he has been violating. “Most natives speak of themselves and other tribe members as ‘The People’. For them, the tribe is the equivalent of a Caucasian’s immediate family. All property is owned by the tribe (or clan). The reservation land is owned in common, no one can sell it. Houses are individually built and owned, but cannot be sold to a non-clan member – except for a few special circumstances. Most of ‘the people’ want (or need) their ‘space’. They never, freely, touch another, not even to shake hands. It is not forbidden to touch, just rude and uncomfortable for the native. He tries never to display emotion, not even to show distaste. – We don’t mean man–woman interactions, you understand, although even there, there is more aloofness and shyness than you are used to, in your world.”
After pausing for a few moments, they continue, “Money is less a concern, on the reservation, than you are expecting. When one of the clan members has a need, the community responds, just as you would respond if your brother had a problem. People here help one another – anyone will take care of a child if the parent can’t, just as any elder will chastise anyone’s child if it does wrong. On the reservation there is a responsibility to everyone else, you don’t have that in your life. No person here is ever on his own. Don’t misunderstand us, things here aren’t perfect. There are enemies and feuds and quarrels – but always there is knowledge of one’s responsibility toward one’s neighbors.”
They laugh and apologize for ‘the lecture’.
Steve assures them that he welcomes their explanations and help. Before he leaves, his host recommends he call on them any time he has a problem with something he isn’t sure about. Steve expresses his enjoyment of the evening and gratitude for all their help. He walks out to his car, but before leaving, his host’s wife comes out. “We forgot to explain about the hogan – it’s an old-style traditional home with the door facing the east to let in the rising sun. The walls must be aligned with the directions. Most traditionalists have a hogan they use daily for morning and evening prayers. It is where the owner would go to give thanks, to meditate, for healing and to die. Usually, it is a temporary building (a tent or walls around a dirt floor). You might think of it as a personal church. Never enter one or even ask to see it. wait till you are invited. Now enough lectures – Good Night.”
Entering his motel room, Steve considers all he has learned. It has only been one day, but his experiences feel as if they encompass years of learning. Lying on his bed, he intends to think about today – all that has happened. Instead he finds himself picturing Joan – her black braid wrapped around her head several times – Do you suppose it’s long enough for her to sit on? he asks himself. She is about 5’6” – a size 14, he guesses, and she has very smooth, even skin. He remembers the soft peach color of her cheeks and wonders if she wears any makeup. He decides that she doesn’t – she is the type to be into the natural look. Her brown eyes aren’t very large, but they seem so still and deep. Remembering his behavior, he almost feels embarrassed. Thinking about her, he falls asleep.
Steve wakes and looks out the window. It will obviously be another hot, sunny day. As he heads toward the restaurant he tries to remember what needs to be done – before he can return to the Trading Post. … Its too bad traditionalists don’t use phones,
he thinks. Better make a list – Seated, after ordering juice, cereal with fruit and coffee, the list starts - replace rental car – call to see possibility. Buy stuff: jacket, boots, cooler, blankets, oil, gas can. tool box… this list is growing. What will I do with this stuff when I leave – first step is to see about car. Picking up his cell phone, he calls the rental company. They answer immediately – one advantage to being around here – He’s in luck, they have a Jeep and will exchange it for his Ford. Steve agrees to be there within the hour. Stopping at the motel desk he gets directions to the nearest stores. There is a large shopping center near the rental pickup. Pleased he sets out for town. He changes cars and fills his list rapidly. The boots he finds are so comfortable he decides to wear them immediately. Then he is on his way back to the trading post.
Stepping from the jeep, he pauses, hesitant to go inside until he has a plan of how to convince Joan to let him drive her to her pawn customers. Standing there his mind is blank - he continues to stand there until he realizes that he doesn’t have a clue what to say. Finally he gives up and walks into the store anyway. He encounters a scene beyond his imagination. Standing by the counter is an old woman, heavy-set, wearing sagging pants, a torn sweater held together with a safety pin, and sneakers with holes over her toes. Her stringy gray hair is tied back with a piece of string. She is earnestly saying something. Joan is standing behind the counter with a strange expression on her face. A sound draws Steve’s attention to the basket sitting on the counter. As he watches, it starts to shake then moves to the edge of the counter and falls. Moving fast, Steve grabs the handle before the basket hits the floor. Looking inside he sees 2 tiny puppies, several kittens and lots of baby chicks. Near the woman’s legs he discovers a dog of nondescript color and type, she has a tabby cat with her, too. The cat is busy weaving her way around the old woman’s legs. Steve is convinced that pandemonium is about to erupt. He looks toward Joan for guidance – if he puts the basket on the floor the animals will be loose in no time - the basket lid doesn’t close. If they get put back on the counter, they will just tumble off again. Joan takes the basket and firmly puts it in the old woman’s hand. “Grandmother; Taos takes animals. We can’t keep them and no one ever comes here to buy livestock. We couldn’t even give them away. You have to take them back.”
The old woman stands there. She speaks, but Steve can’t understand her. He doesn’t even recognize the language. Joan responds to the outburst by going into the grocery and brings back some sacks of animal food. “There is no charge.” She says. The old woman again says something unintelligible. Joan throws up her hands and says, “There is nothing else I can do.”
Steve beckons her over to ask if he can help.
“She can’t get herself home. Her neighbor dropped her off on the way to work and now she’s here and can’t get back.”
Steve says, “If you give me directions, I’ll drive her home. You don’t need her on your hands all day. Does she need other groceries? I’ll pay for them if you get them together.”
For the first time, Joan gives him a real smile. “She lives near the Church of the Light – you passed it yesterday on the way to Joseph’s.”
“Oh yes, I remember it. Tell her I’ll take her home”
“She understands you – she’s just too stubborn to speak English –especially with an outsider around.” Joan goes into the grocery and returns with a large box of food. “Is this too much? She can really use all of this.”
“That’s fine.” He hands her $40. “I’ll be back to talk and get my change. “Picking up the box of food and the basket of young animals he heads for the jeep. He puts his packages outside and returns to hold the door for the old woman and her pets. He puts the animals and food in back, then helps her into the car and fastens her seat belt. His passenger’s bright, shining, black eyes look all around. Finally she clucks in approval. When they reach the church she points at an old trailer and he pulls up next to it. Helping her out, she walks to the door. He lets the animals out and carries the basket and food into her kitchen. She points at the kettle, but he shakes his head, smiles and leaves.
Returning to the trading post, he hopes Joan feels better about him. Walking in, he stands quietly until she looks at him.
Reaching under the counter she takes out some money and holds it out – “your change”.
“This is too much, the food had to cost more than this.”
“I charge a special rate for the ancients.”
Steve nods and pockets his change. “Can we talk for a few minutes?” She nods and he continues by telling her about his meeting with Joseph yesterday and his need to stay around until Friday. “Joseph suggests that I drive you to some of your pawn customers. He felt they might respond better if they meet me. What do you think?”
Joan is obviously reluctant, but she does trust Joseph. Then too, Steve does seem to have learned some lessons from yesterday’s events. “Let me see if I can find someone to run the store tomorrow. If so you can drive me. Do you want me to call you at the motel?”
“I had hoped to take you to dinner as an apology for my rudeness yesterday.”
“Tonight is Women’s Council Meeting. I suppose we could have an early supper there. Before I attend.”
“I would like that. Where should I meet you – and when?”
“Why don’t I stop by your motel and you can follow me to the restaurant – it’s only a few miles from there. Shall we say five thirty - or is that too early?”
“Great – Do you need a phone to find someone for tomorrow? I can leave you my cell phone if it will make things easier.”
Joan becomes very still. Steve wonders if he has made another mistake. She stand as still as a statue for a moment, then says, “That’s very nice of you, but you’ll need it, won’t you?”
“No. There isn’t anyone I need to call - anyway, there are phones at the motel, if I need one. Take it if you can use it.”
“Thanks, I’ll borrow it and return it later.”
Steve hands her the phone and goes to the jeep to retrieve the charger – “in case the battery wears down.” Then he leaves, a smile on his face.
Inside the store, Joan shakes her head. She isn’t sure what just happened – why did she take his cell phone? She has one of her own. Later, she thinks. I’ll make sense of my actions later. First, she calls her sister and asks her to watch the store tomorrow. She checks up on her sister’s family – her brother-in-law and her 2-year-old nephew, pleased that they are well she hangs up. She opens the playpen and fills it with toys. Now everything is ready for tomorrow.
But is she ready? Later, she thinks, there’s still work to do. Joan looks over the pawn pieces and maps out a route that will take her past the homes of the creators of her best pawn. Feeling satisfied with her plan, she makes herself some tea and has crackers and cheese with it. Although there are orders to be placed, Joan can’t get up the energy needed to complete the paperwork.
Instead, she sits at the counter thinking about Steve and her range of feelings about him. It’s been a long time since I’ve had such strong, opposing reactions to anyone, she thinks. One minute I’m furious at his arrogance and the next I’m touched by his reaction to my dilemma with the old grandmother. I want to avoid him, yet I not only agree to dinner, but I arrange to spend tomorrow in his company. I even plan a route that gives him access to the best work. I do admire his willingness to learn. He not only didn’t try to shake hands, today, but he avoided anything that might put us in contact. Even his invitation to dinner was sweet. If I were smart, I would call and cancel, but his phone is here and has to be returned. Did I keep the phone so that it would be impossible to cancel? she wonders.
Joan has no close friends with whom to talk about Steve. She thinks of Zonnie. Although they haven’t spoken in a while, they used to be friends. The last time they spoke, was just after Zonnie married and purchased the motel. – besides, Steve had dinner with her yesterday. Before she can change her mind, Joan calls the motel. Talking to Zonnie relieves her mind. Steve did ask for help and then paid attention to what he was told. She hadn’t expected him to have that much sensitivity. At least, Joan doesn’t need to worry about his behavior tomorrow.
Back at the motel, Steve is pleased at the time spent with Joan, until he realizes that she still hasn’t volunteered her name. Does she still dislike him? He thinks he has made some progress in overcoming her initial response to him – still; he’s less sure than earlier.
With the afternoon free, he drives around and observes some of the beauty there. On the way back, he realizes that he still feels lucky to live as he does. This may be the life chosen by people here, but he prefers the city and his life there. He doesn’t think he is a racist, but he loves the opportunities that having money provides him. Will that make people like Joan and Joseph hate him? He hopes not.
Yesterday, he couldn’t understand how anyone could want to live here – today he can accept someone making the choice of this lifestyle. It just wouldn’t be his.