Gallup, New Mexico is a nondescript railroad town, whose main street is Highway 40. Indian souvenier shops, bars and other places of business attract those passing through. It lies between the Navajo and the Pueblo country, and is dry and windy. At the far end of town, going East is Red Rock Park campground, whose main attraction is understandably, a large red rock. In the afternoon the wind picks up, and the sand and grit fill your eyes, and tosses the camping gear around if it is not confined within a tent or camper. Next to it is a large stadium where two or three times a year, an Indian rodeo is held. People converge from all the surrounding area, to watch high school boys rope, ride bulls and wrestle calves. The enthusiasm runs high, and the spectators are dressed in their best for an exiting weekend. Men in their black cowboy hats, boots, jeans and silver concha belts. Women wearing long velvet or flowered skirts, all their turquoise jewelry, and shining black hair done up in chongos. Little boys hang on the rails, dreaming of the day when they will ride a bull, or rope a steer. Well-behaved lIttle girls sit primly and quiet beside their mothers, watching the boys.
Going back into the town, in side streets are shops selling lovely turquoise jewelry, and more upscale Indian artifacts, such as rugs, baskets and pottery. For serious customers of authentic Indian art, Gallup offers better value than Santa Fe, which attracts a different classs of art lover. Continuing through town to the western edge, an Indian Flea Market attracts enormous crowds of people once a week on Saturday. Indians from all the surrounding country come to trade. Pickups loaded with fleece lure weavers. Mothers-in-law sometimes sit atop the fleeces as they ride into town. In some Navajo families, a married man prefers not to speak to his mother-in-law. (Or perhaps it is the other way around.) A shaman herbalist sells seeds and leaves which are guaranteed to cure everything from a cold to a broken heart. Hats, belts, and boots have men crowding around their stalls hoping to get a bargain from the stolid, grim faced sellers. You can buy anything from T-shirts to broken auto parts and not-so-good fake turquoise jewelry and pots from the nearby reservation. Not to be forgotten, is a stand with the world’s best tamales. It is a large market with several aisles, so it takes a long time to see it all.
Looking down one of those side aisles, two women were bargaining over a rustic cradle board. The older Navajo woman, impassive and silent, was the maker of the basic unadorned cradle board. Many of the Southwest tribes make very beautiful, beaded and padded cradle boards. This one was bare wood laced together with leather, a hard bed for any tiny infant. The young Navajo,very pregnant customer was not having much luck in getting the old woman to lower her price. I stood there a full twenty minutes listening, and hoping she would make her purchase and there would be another cradle board somewhere in the confines of her truck. Finally the old woman said “Twenty dollars.” Just then the young woman looked at me and said “You want this.” A statement, not a question. I said yes I did,” but you need it!” She said “Take it”. When I demurred, she asked “Can you come back next week”, and when I answered “no”, she said “I can. Take it”. With that, she turned and walked away empty handed. Obviously, this was the only cradle board for sale this day. Guilt ridden, and knowing the price the old woman had quoted the girl was twenty dollars, I asked what she wanted for it. She very irritably said thirty dollars. I pulled two twenty dollar bills out of my pocket and offered them to her without actually releasing them. I looked her in the eye and said, “You told her twenty.” With her hand on the forty dollars, we stood for what seemed an eternity before she reluctantly said OK, and I returned the extra bill to my pocket.
I rejoined Dr. Advice carrying my newfound treasure, but instead of feeling glee, I could only hope that the young woman did return the next Saturday.
“Navajo Grandmother” original watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen