Friday, December 20, 2013

Crossing the other Delaware: a personal view of Christmas

Reprinting, with permission, an article from the Florida Weekly Not directly pertinant to Tribal Art, but a worthy read anyway.

In the American cultural vernacular, which may prove as confusing to you as it frequently does to me, the first Christmas did not occur 2,013 years ago.
Instead, the first Christmas took place exactly 237 years ago on a frigid night a few miles north of Philadelphia.
In this whimsical, transformative nation, holidays that began as one thing inevitably become another, and none more so than Christmas.
During the evening of Dec. 25, 1776, Christmas Love (defined as the love of Christ come, for Christians) must have seemed as remote as the North Pole to the 2,400 men who crossed the Delaware River out of Pennsylvania. They moved out in sleet and snow equipped with newly issued flints for their weapons on George Washington’s command, gathering on the riverfront from positions near McKonkey’s Ferry.
At that point the self-declared United States of America — where you and I will eat to our heart’s content this Christmas — amounted to 174 days worth of upstart nation. Brand new, the nation was also under siege, wrapped in a winter storm, and starving.
Most of Washington’s men couldn’t swim, but they swallowed their fear. Ice floes in the river presented a significant danger to their heavily-laden boats as they labored in frigid darkness toward the Jersey shore.
None of it was pretty. In sloppy, struggling fashion, commanders and a regiment of experienced seamen from Marblehead, Mass., with others, finally landed the force mostly intact at Trenton, on the east bank of the river.
There, things changed forever. That fact remains the nation’s most singular Christmas gift to itself.
The Americans caught the winter-encamped Hessian troops (competent professional soldiers in the pay of the British army) completely off guard and drunk. Thus they won the first real victory in our history, at the end of what had been a very bad year.
Had Washington been killed or captured — a distinct possibility since he was among the first to land on the far shore — history would have gone barking up a different tree.
It almost did, anyway. Previously, his men had succeeded only in having their rear ends kicked out of New York and chased all over New Jersey by the British and their allies.
But only six days before Christmas, Thomas Paine came out with a feisty pamphlet called “Common Sense,” in Philadelphia. It included the most famous lines he ever wrote. The language was so compelling that against all reason it boosted morale among the half-frozen, half-sick, woefully undernourished Americans.
“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Mr. Paine wrote. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
No doubt many would have settled for an easier conflict and reduced rations of glory along with a hot meal, but they weren’t given the choice.
For all those Americans, including women, children and the old people left to manage farms and homes, Christmas Love required sacrifice and the recognition of imminent mortality.
To all of them, everything must have seemed tenuous.
I’ve always thought of Christmas that way, too — as a time when existence can become, paradoxically, both sumptuous and desperate.
In such a time, each of us must cross our own Delaware, which means that each of us must define Christmas Love as any force or energy that allows us to make the crossing, no matter how tenuously or what shape it takes.
If, for example, you haven’t spoken to a relative or an old friend with whom you’ve fallen out, you’re facing the river.
If you haven’t forgiven yourself for a mistake made in another time — which means confronting your own weakness or blindness, and moving on — you’re facing the river.
If the echoes of the dead or the memories of Christmases past become not the voices of angels but a chorus of tyrants beckoning you to surrender the joyous moment in order to suffer the once-upon-a-time, you’re facing the river.
Charles Dickens, the great British novelist, knew the music of this tune intimately, which was why he wrote “A Christmas Carol.”
In any case, something has to be faced and changed. And you have to face it and change it. Christmas is a time to do that, just as it was for Washington and the men, women and children who faced his Delaware River.
For somebody I never knew, here’s one more Delaware. Late on Dec. 24, 1976, I drove out of the gates of Camp Lejeune, N.C., home of the Second Marine Division, bound toward Wilmington 50 or so miles to the south. I was bent on attending midnight Mass at an orthodox church.
The narrow two-lane blacktop ribboned a North Carolina night so black in the flat piedmont that I could see nothing beyond my own headlights for miles, until a flashing of red and blue came distantly into view.
I slowed, approached and passed. Two cars had collided head on. The bodies of five dead lay under sheets near the devastated wreckage. Midnight was 90 minutes away.
At the church, a packed Christmas celebration of such candlelit, incense-infused magnificence occurred — with chanting, bells, the sprinkling of holy water and all the sensuous ornamentation of celebratory life — that I’ve never been able to forget either the blood or the glory.
And now it’s only Christmas Love I want for them: for those nameless souls who may still cherish the victims of that long ago night. May they, with all of us, find it in themselves to cross the other Delaware. ¦
— A version of this column originally ran on Dec. 21, 2011.

Monday, December 16, 2013

In tribal art, what is the value of good service?

Sue and I were talking this morning about the number of really satisfying feedback comments we get. I use the term “satisfying” because that's what they are. When you receive good service from us, not only does it benefit you, it also benefits us. There is something positively rewarding about hearing from people who feel they had a good experience with us.

So, we work very diligently to provide response-worthy service. Sometimes we mess up. After all, unlike the big companies, we are human. Two human beings who select items for resale that we would be happy to own ourselves if no one buys them. (Once, we tried to buy for the “market”. We bought some things we weren't crazy about but thought others would like. We were wrong. And disappointed. It was a lesson re-learned every time we looked at something we were not that fond of. From then on, we vowed to buy only items that pleased us. That way, if they are not sold, we have the pleasure of enjoying them ourselves.)

But I have digressed somewhat from the subject of good service and its value. 

The point is, when we treat people the way we would like to be treated, it has intrinsic value for us. We feel good about doing it. We hope you do too. And when you tell us about it, we are thrilled.

Which brings me to the other component of value, price. We price our items at a level that provides us with a modest amount of income to cover our risk, expense and a few dollars for groceries. Since we buy at wholesale, the price to our buyer is seldom any more than what the buyer would pay directly to the maker – if they could get that opportunity.

Still we get buyers who ask, “Is that they best you can do?” We are not offended. We understand that value is set by the buyer. If the asking price is higher than the buyer thinks the item is worth, we would rather have her ask for a discount that balances the value equation for her than walk away without something that she valued enough to ask about in the first place. If we have any room to bargain, we will.

What bothers us is other re-sellers who are constantly in “sale mode”. They price an item at more than it's worth and then put it “on sale” at a price that is its actual worth. Who are they fooling? Do they think so little of their customers' intelligence that they believe you don't know what they are doing? Incidentally, these people are often the same as those who subtly mislead in their descriptions of the items. On headlined “Native American art”, they include numerous items described as “Southwestern-style” without specifically saying that they are NOT made by indigenous Native American Indians.

All these elements constitute “good service” : quality merchandise, honestly presented, guaranteed authentic with satisfaction guaranteed, properly packed, promptly shipped and willingly tracked in the event of delivery problems.

This becomes even more important at this time of year, when buyers want their purchases delivered in time for the holiday. As of today, the post office assures us that the deadline for shipping with that expectation is five days off. Of course, there are alternatives such as overnight shippers, at higher cost. And, if you are within 25 miles of South Fort Myers, we will personally deliver any purchase of $100 or more to your address, at no extra charge.

If you would like to receive e-alerts of our new items, sales (real one) or other news of tribal art happenings, sign up here.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all. And thanks for your attention.