If I sing for my supper, will you put money in my mug?

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, Our Town Arts

My Aunt Katherine almost shattered one of my dreams when I was 8 years old. I think my recent venture into pottery class may shatter another one.

My mother was responsible for Aunt Katherine being in our family in the first place, having introduced a young Kathy to her oldest brother, Gib, when he came to live with her in Mobile, Alabama. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Gib married, had a daughter – my cousin Ramona – and nine months after Ramona was born, my mom and dad welcomed me into the family.

Fate threw us all back to Lexington, Tennessee, when I was 6 and Ramona 7, after my father died. Uncle Gib had come home with his bride to work with my Papaw after he bought the corner gas station in Lexington. When we came back, we built our house a little over a block away from them.

My Aunt Katherine loved me, but she was a blunt woman. You usually knew where you stood with Aunt Katherine, and, if you asked a question, you’d better be braced for the answer. My mother would just sigh: “That’s the world according to Kathy,” she would say.

So when Aunt Katherine asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I emphatically – new Barbie doll with her long black sequined dress and tall microphone in hand – said I wanted to be a singer.

She couldn’t stop laughing. “Sweetie,” she said, “you couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket.”

I was devastated, and angry. “I never have liked you,” I told her.

My mother made me apologize, and then made her apologize. Aunt Katherine and I were both as stubborn as the day was long. Her apology was along the lines of: “You can be anything you want, as long as you work hard.” Mine was even less apologetic: “I didn’t mean I didn’t like you. I just meant you aren’t my favorite aunt.”

And my mother sighed.

I never made it to a nightclub gig where I could wear a tight-fitting sequined dress, but I did sing in the church choir and even had some small solos through the years.

Fast-forward now, to me at 67, deciding it’s time to fulfill my dream of being a potter. I did not need my dear Aunt Katherine – who, like my mother, died too young – to point out the facts at hand:

  1. Other than writing, I do not have an artistic bone in my body. I can’t draw, knit, needle-point, paint or hook rugs.
  2. I have very little (my husband and sons say “zero”) hand-to-eye coordination.
  3. I am weak as a kitten in upper-body strength.
  4. My muscle memory is pretty much taken up with remembering which my weaker side is so I don’t fall down when I stand up.

Look up wheel pottery, and you will see that it is foolhardy to know these facts and still decide to take two beginner classes, followed by a six-week stint of classes in Throwing Pots.

Yet, here I am, the proud owner of three lopsided bowls of varying shapes and sizes (from the two beginner classes), and I am ready for class three of the six-week class.

My teacher, Emily, at Studio 212 in Maryville – home of the famous potter Leanne McQueen – is very patient. She knows I am working hard. She knows I am coming in to practice when there is open time at the studio. She says I am improving.

Our goal, evidently, is to learn to make a cylinder that we will then learn how to attach a handle to and make a coffee mug. Last Sunday, we were tasked with producing three good cylinders to put on our “keep this” board.

I have one short cylinder with a lopsided rim and one bowl.

Here’s the biggest problem: I am loving every minute of it. I would set up a wheel and kiln in my house right now if I could. I love the feel of the clay, the push-and-pull of it as I work it with my hands. It is just thrilling, even if the end results don’t look like anybody’s thrill.

So I keep going back. We still have four classes to go. I may yet produce a cylinder that hopes to be a mug. Stay tuned, and I will update at the end.

In the meantime, I’m getting better at bowls.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at [email protected]

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