The Onion Seller, The Basket Maker and an Ambassador of Kindness

A few days ago, after a visit to Ernest Thompson Seton’s Santa Fe homestead, now in the wonderful hands and hearts of The Academy for the Love of Learning( I found myself browsing through Seton’s “Gospel of the Redman.”  This little story, called The Onion Seller jumped out at me.

In a shady corner of the great market at Mexico City was an old Indian named Pota-lamo. He had twenty strings of onions hanging in front of him.
An American from Chicago came up and said:
“How much for a string of onions?”
“Ten cents,” said Pota-lamo.
“How much for two strings?”
“Twenty cents,” was the reply.
“How much for three strings?”
“Thirty cents,” was the answer.
“Not much reduction in that,” said the American. “Would you take twenty-five cents?”
“No,” said the Indian.
“How much for your whole twenty strings?” said the American.
“I would not sell you my twenty strings,” replied the Indian.
“Why not?” said the American. “Aren’t you here to sell your onions?”
“No,” replied the Indian. “I am here to live my life. I love this market place. I love the crowds and the red serapes. I love the sunlight and the waving palmettos. I love to have Pedro and Luis come by and say: ‘Buenos dias’, and light cigarettes and talk about the babies and the crops. I love to see my friends. That is my life. For that I sit here all day and sell my twenty strings of onions. But if I sell all my onions to the customer, then is my day ended. I have lost my life that I love and that I will not do.”

It brought to mind another story, very much in the same vein, by B. Traven, best known as the author of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, In a short story called Assembly Line, a savvy businessman discovers an Indian who makes marvelous baskets and sells them for a pittance.  The businessman returns to New York, finds a buyer willing to take thousands of baskets and returns to share the good news with the humble and seemingly naive craftsman.  Much as in Seton’s anecdote, the basket maker offers no discounts…in fact the greater number of baskets ordered the higher the price will be for each one. With deference but ironic humor, he gives the businessman quite a lesson in economics, explaining how the entire village’s economy will be ruined if he agrees to make and sell thousands. Everyone would be making baskets, no one would be working the fields, the price of food would go up, and the farmers turned assembly line workers would not longer be able to afford the food they used to grow.
But what is more important he continues,  “I’ve got to make these canstitas my own way, and with my song in them and with bits of my soul woven into them.  If I were to make them in great numbers there would no longer be my soul in each or my songs…and this would slowly eat up my heart.  Each has to be another song which I hear in the morning when the sun rises and when the birds begin to chirp and the butterflies come and sit down on my baskets so that I may see a new beauty….”

I woke up this morning, wanting to share these two stories, and at the same time wondering how I might make a connection or segue to current events here in my own realm.  Then a bus pulled up.  Looking across the street from where I was having my afternoon coffee, The Million Acts of Kindness Bus pulled up and there was no way I was going to head home without seeing and hearing what this was all about.

Let me introduce you to Bob Votruba and his canine traveling companion Bogart by way of their web-site. ( Bob is an ambassador for peace and kindness.  The tragic Virginia Tech shootings set him on his path. Please, take a moment to read his story.  He’s been on the road and living in the bus for three years, and plans to continue for another seven.  He speaks clearly from his heart and passion about the need for kindness in the world.  He has woven this vision and put it into action and into the fabric of his life. Support his journey, and explore how you can make his journey for kindness your journey. Here is a man who knows something about the value of life…his and others.

Well, that’s how it works.  You start thinking about how you spend or sell your life, and out of the blue, you get a kick in the butt or a pat on the back as the case may be. You hear a story, you meet a real hero, and if you’re lucky, a butterfly might even flutter by and remind you of your own beauty and potential to make a difference!

(I relish comments… perhaps someone inspired you today?



  1. The year of my mother’s final illness my high school students kept me going, with prayers, wishes, cards, book recommendations and general kindness. When I thanked one young woman, she said, “Remember last year, when you helped me? Now it’s my turn.” The ripples go out and out . . . thanks for the reminder.

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