Cobbler & Conversation

Wickenburg, Arizona is a cowboy town and the cowboys there are the real thing, workin’ cowboys, ranchers, rodeo guys. The saguaro and prickly pear cactus covered hills outside of town are cattle ranches.

Right on the highway near the west edge of town is the Cowboy Café, plenty of room in the packed dirt parking lot for horse trailer pullin’ pickup trucks. I was told the peach pie at the Cowboy Café was something special, so I stopped.

I ordered the pie, but Debbie the young waitress scrunched her face, “Sorry, no pie today, but we got peach cobbler.”

“Fresh peaches?” I asked.

“Wouldn’t be peach cobbler if’n it weren’t,” she smiled.

I sipped my coffee, waiting for the cobbler and looked around. A group of rodeo bull riders own the Cowboy Cafe. Framed photographs and large silver rodeo belt buckles decorate the walls. Cowboys, one hand held high, the other holding tight, caught in freeze-frame stop action sailed through the air atop 1,200-pound bulls. There were saddle and bareback bronc riders too.

You don’t get rich on the rodeo circuit. It’s a rough nomadic life, running from one rodeo to another, often hundreds of miles apart and chances are ya gotta be there the next day. It’s dust and sprains, broken bones and the luck of the draw so why do these cowboys do it? There are three reasons as I see it: freedom of the road, the risk of the ride, and the prospect of winning that solid silver Championship buckle.

I liked Wickenburg. I liked the low unobtrusive rooflines, nothing flashy, just real, honest people living on a landscape of subdued sage and sienna hues, rolling hills, arroyos and flatland desert. I like honest hard workin’ people, leading simple lives, not trying to fool or impress anybody, just getting’ on. And the peach cobbler? Well, it’s about as good as it gets.

Marilyn is Navajo. Somewhere in her forties, she works at the Hubbell Trading Post just outside of Ganado, Arizona.

The stone trading post has been in continuous operation since 1878. Founder and proprietor John L. Hubbell always traded fairly and honestly with the Navajo people, a tradition that continues today. The original wooden counters and floors are beautifully worn. In the main room the shelves are laden with canned goods, grocery and other household items. Cast iron frying pans, one large enough to fry a dozen eggs sunny side up at one time, hang from the ceiling. Tall bolts of brightly colored fabric line up at vertical attention behind another counter, turquoise, purple, orange, yellow, red, a velvet and satin rainbow.

Entering the next room I stepped back a hundred years. One corner of the room is the original gated office area with large oak desks and bookcases, a still functional turn of the century typewriter. Oak framed glass display cases filled with jewelry and artifacts occupy the remainder of the room. A stylish twenty-something Navajo woman feverishly works on her hair and makeup, the contrary embodiment of hipness and attitude. “MTV is everywhere,” I mumbled to myself.

Back in the main room I spotted moccasins; my hearts desire. I bought a pair of Navajo boots in Gallup, New Mexico when I was seventeen and wore them till they fell off my feet. I had to have another pair.

I asked Marilyn’s assistance. We were digging through a stack of Navajo boots, when a busload of Parisian tourists poured through the front door. I saw no irritation or judgment in her eyes, only acceptance. The moccasins I selected had no ties or conchos. Marilyn led me deftly through the throng of Parisians to the other counter. While another young Navajo woman behind that counter searched for ties and conchos, Marilyn and I chatted about the trading post’s history. Our conversation was quiet and intimate in spite of the clamorous French chatter.

Something was noticeably absent in her eyes; sexual posturing. No matter how subtle, sexual manipulation and control are usually at work in the eyes of men and women when they converse. Most everybody’s like that, too little listening, too much desire for conversational control. What I saw in Marilyn’s eyes was ease, interest and confidence, no agendas, nothing to prove. She was a listener, a good one. We shared a pure, uncluttered, in the moment conversation. It was refreshing.

Marilyn said something in Navajo to the woman behind the counter. I thanked her for her help and she went off quietly to serve as wrangler to the Parisians. I paid my bill, held the door for an ancient Navajo woman tottering in to do her trading, then headed to lunch at the Ganado Hospital’s Sage Cafe.

Thank you Marilyn for the discount on my moccasins. Thanks for the surprise of not telling me and for the delightful conversation. But most of all thank you for teaching me a lesson; that the honesty in one individuals eyes is more powerful than all the lies and half truths in all the world.

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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