Many of you know that two years ago in September we had a burglary at the gallery in Durango. It was a big one. The thieves broke in through a skylight window from the roof, dropped into the offices, ran down the stairs, smashed three showcases that had our expensive jewelry in them and were out the emergency fire door in less than a minute.
We had to close the gallery while the police gathered evidence. Then we had to clean the place up and set up procedures to identify the stolen merchandise for the police and the insurance company.
About noon that day, I received a call from Nellie Tsosie. She is a wonderful woman who makes the piñon cream that we sell in the gallery. She and her family live on Toh-Atin mesa, the place the gallery is named after. (It means, “No Water” and there isn’t any. The family has to truck it in using 55-gallon drums.)
The mesa is south of the Four Corners and it is where Nellie goes out and hand picks the piñon pitch from trees that she boils, mixes it with coconut oil and other secret ingredients and calls it, “Mom’s Everything Cream,” because it will cure about anything.
People that live in humid parts of the country and have second homes in Durango come to the gallery when they get to town to grab a jar to keep the skin on their hands from cracking. It’s great stuff and once you try it you are hooked. It is not cheap, but hand picking the piñon sap off trees is not easy! And it works!
Anyway, Nellie called to say she was bringing some cream up. I told her we had a burglary the night before and were closed so it wasn’t a good day to drive up.
Nellie asked me if I knew who did it and I told her I did not. Then she asked, “Do you want me to bring my mother up to tell you?”
“What do you mean?” I asked. She told me her mother was a hand trembler and she could see things other people couldn’t. She can also help to heal people.
“You bet,” I replied. What did we have to lose?
A couple of hours later, they came in the door. Nellie’s mom, Cecilia is a beautiful sweet woman in her 90’s who is very active and sharp. When she was 11 years old, she had been sick for quite a while and was about to die. A relative convinced her parents to take her to a “meeting” of the Native American Church which was going to be held in Towaoc on the Mountain Ute Reservation.
During the “meeting” a ceremony was held for her and she was cured. When the healing was completed, one of her arms was tingling and she asked the medicine man what that meant. He told her that she had a gift that would allow her to help people and he explained what a “Hand Trembler” was.
He then told her that if she didn’t want the responsibility, he would make the gift go away and it would not come back. Cecilia, at that young age, made the decision to use the gift to help people and decided to keep the power. For over 80 years, she has helped people with her ceremonies.
She had me sit on the floor near one of the cases that had been broken into and sprinkled corn meal on and around me. She said a long prayer in Navajo. Then she held her hands out and started moving them above my body. They were shaking and she was praying in Navajo at the same time. It went on for a long time and it felt amazingly peaceful.
When she was through, she paused for what seemed like a long time before she relaxed and started telling Nellie what she had learned. Nellie had to translate as Cecilia speaks only Navajo. She spoke for a long time and finally Nellie started to speak, sometimes pausing to ask her mother something in Navajo.
She said that the person who planned the burglary had worked in the gallery at one time or had spent a lot of time there. She said there were two men who were outside, waiting in cars, who paid two other men to break into the gallery and steal the jewelry from certain cases. She described how they had come in, the way they broke the cases and how they left. These were things she had absolutely no way of knowing.
Then she said that each man inside had a large bag, like a duffel bag, where they put the jewelry. When they left the building, each thief put a bag into a different car. One went north and one went south.
Cecilia said the one that went north was headed to a show or a place where a lot of people sold jewelry and we would never get any of it back. The man that went south would try to sell it by himself and we would get something back, but not much. She also said that they took something else that we would discover later. It turns out it was a Mac Powerbook.
Of course, I dutifully reported the information to the Police. I think one of the detectives listened, the rest thought I had been smoking pot. They were pretty much convinced it was a local deal even though there had been (and they are still happening) a series of very similar thefts in Santa Fe, Tucson and Albuquerque.
About three weeks later, I received a call from Jesse Robbins, one of the artists who had some work stolen in the burglary. He had seen one of the missing bracelets on an eBay store based in Arizona. I called one of the detectives and he contacted the eBay seller to tell him he had a stolen bracelet on his site. The man insisted he had purchased it on Craig’s List and sent the text messages from the Craig’s List seller. That person that had pictures of many of the stolen jewelry pieces. It was funny as the text messages also included comments about the family going to the movies and the eBay buyer talking about his wife and kids, so it seemed like they knew each other.
It’s a long a crazy story but nothing ever happened, and no one was ever arrested. To be fair, at the time Durango had a police chief who was more interested in neighborhood car vandalism than in catching a real thief. My emails to the Chief were answered by his head of detectives who told me I just didn’t understand police work. I guess I don’t.
The Durango Police Officers do a terrific job. They are underpaid and overworked, and this problem was at the top, not with the officers in the field. We now have a new Chief of Police.
I learned an important lesson from all of this. The Hand Trembler was able to tell me what happened with no knowledge of the events. I have no idea how, but it really made me think about the things we don’t know and to never close your mind to a possibility.
Since this episode, I take more time to visit with Nellie and Cecilia when they bring piñon cream to the gallery. These women and their families live in one of the most remote and beautiful parts of the Navajo Nation. They have worked hard all their lives. They raise sheep. Cecilia is a weaver; Nellie buys and sells livestock and makes her piñon cream. Cecilia dresses and lives a traditional lifestyle while Nellie runs her cream business from her phone and pickup. She can’t make enough to meet the demand and we feel very lucky to be one of the stores that sells her cream. She now spends a lot of time with her new grandson in Phoenix, but we are hoping she will continue to make “Mom’s Everything Cream.”