I was covered in mud, head to toe as I sat in the middle of the filthy construction site of our new next-door neighbors’ house. The builders had dug a foundation for a modular home, leaving an enormous pile of dirt in their back yard. Dad was intrigued by the modern concept and kept his eye on the progress through the living room window.
“Let’s make pottery!” I suggested to my friend, Barby. “The mud looks just like clay.”
“I think it is clay,” she determined.
I had known Barby for over half of my life. We met at a baby shower when we were only four years old. Since then we played on the same summer softball team, were in Brownie Girl Scouts together and this year, we had agreed to sit next to each other in Mrs. Bohlmeyer’s second grade class. She wore tiny freckles across her nose and strawberry blonde hair that had been tinted green from spending full days at the city swimming pool. When she smiled, she exhibited two large front teeth that she wouldn’t grow into for several more years.
We gathered buckets of dirt and used puddles of rain to loosen the consistency. Several earthworms wove through the dirt and we tossed them in a bucket for Barby’s weekend fishing trip. I patted and molded the thick mud into a large bowl, perfect for serving popcorn or rice crispy treats.
“Let’s make a whole set of dishes,” said Barby.
“That’s a great idea,” I agreed. “We need four of everything.”
We worked for hours in the mud, molding plates, bowls, cups and even salt and pepper shakers. I used a stick to poke quarter-inch holes in the lids of the shakers. The mud seeped through my fingers and became trapped under my fingernails.
“We need to let them dry so we can paint them,” I said as I picked the sun-dried mud from my skin, which was adhered tightly to the tiny hairs, making it painful to remove.
We gathered our pottery creations and placed them neatly at the end of the driveway, directly in the sun to dry.
“Dad, do we have any paint?” I called to him in the garage.
“What for?” he asked.
“We’re making pottery and we need to paint it,” I said as Barby and I entered the garage.
Dad, who was working tediously from his bench, turned around and let out a long, over-extended chuckle at the looks of us.
“You two are a mess!” he said. “And you’re tracking mud everywhere. Go on back outside and I’ll see what I can find.” We ran back to our pottery, relieved that we hadn’t been scolded for making a mess.
Dad joined us at the end of the driveway, delivering three large cans of latex paint and two gnarly paint brushes left over from our bedroom redesigns.
“Good Lord, what do we have here?” he asked as he approached us.
“It’s our pottery,” I explained. “We’re going to paint them and sell them. I might give this one to Grandma,” I said, pointing to the bowl. Grandma loved homemade crafts and I knew she would be impressed with this breathtaking piece. We had a trip to Grandma’s house planned in just a few days and I always made a special present to take to her.
“That looks like mud to me,” he declared.
“No, Barby says it’s clay and she would know because her Mom uses clay all the time,” I said.
Dad looked at Barby who smiled shyly. He paused for a moment, contemplating his response, then said, “Well, you would know better than I would, I suppose.” He gave me a skeptical wink, then left us alone to build our pottery business.
“We painted the dishes the same pale pink that coated my bedroom walls and accented them with baby blue overlay from my brother’s room. The clay wasn’t dry yet, so brown secretions oozed through the thick coats of paint.
“This bowl is the extra special piece for Grandma,” I said. “Let’s paint stripes on it.”
“That’ll be perfect,” agreed Barby.
It was growing darker outside as we put the final ring of color around the bowl – just in time.
“Girls! Bill! It’s time for supper!” my mom called from the house.
We jumped to our feet, abandoning the pottery and brushes at the end of the driveway to dry. I swung open the front door of the house and we both raced inside.
“What on Earth?” my mom screamed. “Get outside, NOW!”
Mom was angry. “Bill weren’t you paying any attention to them?” she asked scornfully. Dad gave a playful laugh.
“Get outside!” she yelled as she opened the sliding glass door, leading to the back yard. “And Bill, you get to hose them off,” she commanded.
Dad’s laughter grew louder as he joined us outside, which fueled Mom’s rage.
“Now take those filthy clothes off and throw them on the porch,” she said to us.
Dad retrieved the garden hose and spray nozzle from the front of the house while we reluctantly stripped to our underwear.
“Mom, the neighbors will see us,” I argued.
“Oh, it’s dark,” she said “and apparently nobody is watching you two anyway.”
Dad sprayed us down with ice cold water, laughing at our objections to the humiliating outside shower.
“Dad, make the water hot!” I shrieked, which only encouraged his loud hoots and cackles.
Mom tossed two dry towels onto the porch. “Now get in here, get dressed and eat your supper before it gets cold,” she ordered.
We wrapped the cozy towels around our freezing bodies and dashed to my bedroom where dry clothes awaited us on my bed.
Supper was delicious. Mom had made my favorite meal – roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy. I filled my plate twice during dinner and cleaned my plate, still hungry for more. Mom was the best cook in all of the neighborhood. She had mastered domestic skills, only achieved by the most devoted stay-at-home moms. She made certain I never once missed a meal or waited for clean laundry.
“We need to make signs for our pottery sale,” Barby suddenly remembered as we hopped from our chairs and headed to my bedroom.
POTTERY - $2 EACH, my sign read. I couldn’t wait to convert my Kool-Aid stand into an artful kiosk of treasures in my front lawn. I had my very own iron liberty bell, left over from the town’s bicentennial celebration, that I used to alert my neighbors of my big sales.
“Kool-Aid for sale!” I would announce as I rang my bell from my bicycle throughout the neighborhood, just moments before opening for business. “Come and get some ice-fresh Kool-Aid!”
The neighborhood kids would inevitably rush to my stand with their quarters. I had a secret Kool-Aid recipe that I would never share with my patrons. I doubled the mixture, making it so sweet that they would return with a second quarter, sometimes even a third. One day, a stranger in a car gave me five dollars for a cup of my secret recipe.
“Barby, your mom just called. She’s on her way,” my mom said as she peeked into my bedroom.
“But we’re going to sell our pottery tomorrow,” I argued.
“You’ll have to do it another time,” she asserted.
Our plans had been thwarted. We had worked so hard for the grand opening of our pottery boutique. Barby called her mom to beg for one more night, but to no avail. She was already on her way.
“Crackle, crackle,” we heard as the driveway gravel shifted under the station wagon tires. Barby’s large vehicle could transport half of our softball team in the back bed, where we sat in a circle, playing clapping games and singing songs for the duration of the trip.
“She’s here!” mom called. “Your clothes are in this bag, washed, but not dried yet. Don’t forget to give them to your mom so your clothes don’t mildew,” she said as she handed a plastic bag to Barby.
Barby and I ran outside, grabbing a flashlight from the junk drawer in the kitchen to show off our creations.
“Hi Mom!” called Barby.
“Did you girls have fun?” she asked.
“We made pottery,” said Barby excitedly. “Get out of the car and come see!”
We walked behind the car to the end of the driveway, shining the flashlight toward our collection.
“Oh no!” I cried. “They’re broken!”
Chunks of painted dirt remained where our pottery once sat.
“Uh-oh,” gasped Barby’s mom. “I thought I ran over something,” she confessed apologetically.
Every cup, every plate was crumbled to pieces. My hopes of dazzling my patrons with collector’s pieces were crumbled too. We stood, dumbfounded and shattered, staring at the dirt.
“Oh my goodness,” said Dad as he approached the crime scene. “You left your art in the driveway.”
“I’m so sorry,” said her mom.
The tears were building and I tried my best to hide my disappointment. The driveway was silent as Dad and Barby’s mom scrambled for a way to lessen the pain.
“Look!” said dad cheerfully. “Your bowl is in perfect shape.” Thank goodness I had left my special dish in the grass next to our painting station. It wasn’t a complete loss.
Dad rescued the bowl, saying, “I’ll just move this one to the garage where it will be safe.”
Barby gave her mom the bag of wet clothes and jumped into her car, relieved we had one piece to show for our hard day’s work.
“When I come over next Tuesday, we can play eenie, meanie, miney moe for it,” she said with a smile.
“Okay, see ya!” I called as they left the driveway. Little did she know, but I knew all the tricks to that game and I always won.
That night I slept well. Exhaustion had consumed my body.
The following morning, I popped out of bed and skipped to the garage, excited to see my cured masterpiece and marvel at my creativity.
There, lying next to the step was the bowl, broken into four pieces, with cracks all throughout.
“Dad!” I cried. “What happened?”
He turned from his workbench and smiled empathetically. “Well, hon, I’m afraid your clay is actually mud and mud just crumbles when it dries. Doggone it, I’m sorry.”Without a word, I returned slowly to my bedroom. ‘I guess I’ll have to make something else for Grandma,’ I thought to myself.