When I think back to my early years in Bluff, I vividly recall Navajo women wearing beautiful velveteen clothes made in the Victorian style, even on hot summer days like today.
Because they had a tradition of wearing their wealth in the form of turquoise and silver jewelry, their blouses were often accented with row upon row of silver coins and stamped silver buttons.
As the barter economy declined on the Navajo Reservation and hard money was available, this became their way of showing success. To me, those women literally glistened.
If a Navajo person was in Bob Howell’s small grocery store and was short of paper money, she might simply remove a couple buttons to pay the bill.
Bob’s business was located about a block from where Twin Rocks Trading Post now resides. Walking past Bob’s store on my daily adventures, I remember thinking those Navajo ladies must be fabulously wealthy to have so much cash money displayed on their clothing.
For just one of their Mercury dimes, I could have bought enough candy and soda to satisfy my sweet tooth for days.
Recently I was reminded of those Navajo women when a man came into the trading post wanting to purchase a turquoise bracelet for his granddaughter.
The visitor was extremely well turned out in elegant traveling clothes and stylish, well-crafted leather loafers. He was obviously a cultured European, which made an impression on me.
Once we located a cuff that met his needs, the genteel man asked what type of payment we accepted. At that point I gave him my standard Twin Rocks routine, responding, “In this small town we take whatever we can get. Feather money, trade beads, wampum, credit cards, cash, even yap.”
“Yap?” he asked.
“Yes, you know, those large disks of calcite historically used in Micronesia. If you have it, we’ll take it.”
I knew about yap, which is also known as rai or fei, because I had recently read a book about the origin, history and future of money.
Continuing with my spiel, I said, “You may not have any in your wallet since they are typically about 12 feet in diameter and hundreds of pounds.”
“Oh,” he said as though my routine was nothing special. I was disappointed he was not more impressed with my pitch but was still excited I might get the first sale on a very, very slow day.
Priscilla is always smug with me when she is first out of the gate, so I was working hard to avoid that scenario.
Sensing I was expecting some type of response to my monologue, the man reached into his pocket and extracted a small leather purse.
Rummaging through the coins, he looked up with a smile and said, “Not a single yap.”
We both grinned. He then took out his wallet and began extracting $100 bills.
“Is cash okay?”
“Cash is good,” I replied. As it turned out, he was a bill short. At that point he sat down on one of the wooden chairs arrayed around the trading post and pulled off his right shoe, extracting the last Ben Franklin from under the insole.
“Shoe Money,” he said.
Noting my confusion, he explained that his mother, who had survived the Bergen Belsen death camp, had trained him to always have extra money available in case an emergency arose.
In a pinch he would have available resources to get back home. Her suggestion was to keep cash in his shoe.
Worrying I had depleted his reserves and left him no way back to the homestead, I asked, “What will you do now?”
“More shoe money,” he said, gesturing to his left foot. “Mother also taught me you should have a backup to your backup, a back-backup as it were. Amazing woman. She had to be to make it through that nightmare.”
Later Priscilla mentioned she felt Navajo people had endured much the same during the Long Walk. I agreed and asked if she had money in her shoes.
“None in my shoes and none on my blouse,” she said. “I stopped putting money on my shirt when I realized a nickel wasn’t worth a dime.”
Who knew Priscilla was a graduate of the Yogi Berra School of Logic and Economics.