Decided to go to my source of "throw a thousand pots", the timing oddly coincidental. While at my mother's, found out my husband was involved in a relatively minor car incident, so I came home. There on the kitchen table stack of mail was the postcard invitation to her annual studio sale. I stuck it on the refrigerator, wrote it on the calendar, plus made a large flashing neon mental note. Sunday morning, weather glorious, I didn't go to church, didn't unpack my bag, didn't even feed the cats. I slowly enjoyed my freshly ground brew of coffee, read some news, then dressed and drove west for an hour. Other years, I've brought family or friends, as suggested on the invitation, but I needed a country drive alone. I only regret leaving my camera home, my small, silent companion on many occasions.
Now, if you think New Jersey has too many people, too many roads, ugly buildings and not enough beauty, you have never driven west to Clinton. Even the main highway route with four lanes has spectacular views, and the further you get, random farms, some still functioning with sheep grazing lazily or horses wearing the plaid blankets of fall into winter. As this area is steeped in Revolutionary War history, there are also homes dating back to the 1700's, some have been kept up, though many have fallen into the sad disrepair that my camera loves so much. Slanting grey barns, and crumbling corn silos, homes with broken windows and thin curtains blowing in the wind, front steps with missing boards or holes of danger if you attempt to enter. Some porches still have a chair, rocking as if the ghost of some mother still sits, paring potatoes for soup, in the splotchy sun.
Then, a reminder of the present day, WalMart on one side of the exit, a women's correctional facility on the other, but the road goes on, past smaller farms and dead cornfields, a church or two, reminding me you can't escape from God on a Sunday. Reaching my destination, I park next to a restaurant long since closed but its hours of being OPEN are still posted, a barber shop also vacant; this is the center of town. I find a two week old apple in one coat pocket when putting my keys in, and think of the custom of giving a teacher an apple. In my mind, Ann is the apple, some students never get past the skin to the fruit and the core. Walking down her street, memories of other times, other people in my life no longer here or there or anywhere.
Arriving at the main part of her home studio, there is suddenly food and wine, tiny blue lights draped from heavy wooden barn beams, people clutching their prizes, people talking about eating too many potato chips and the wine making them tipsy. On shelves and tables, the array of wares is placed with color themes of her life and thoughts in mind. I promised my husband I would not buy another black Raku bowl; we have so many plus I gave them as gifts for years. A quick perusal shows either she stopped making them; they all have been sold; or she is on to another series.
She is re-arranging one table, her back to me. I watch her careful movements, her clay wrinkled hands, so tiny, delicate, yet determined. I surprise her as she turns, we hug, kiss, and touch each other, as words spill out. Realizing this is my church today, I ask her about the throw a thousand pots saying. Her face is blank, then she breaks into childlike laughter, "Was I really that profound in those days?" I tell her the alternate version I found on the internet and she waves aside two customers wanting to know the prices of her pots, "That sounds right, too," she says, then tells one woman, "Three dollars per tea bowl". I tell her, "Ann, you are seriously under pricing those." She nudges me and whispers, "they were supposed to be red but they didn't turn out red."
She goes into teacher mode, talking about glaze results, centering the clay on the wheel, and I remind her it was never about that for me. I didn't care about getting a result that was as I planned; I preferred the process and the surprise. She reminds me how often my pieces exploded during the firing and I apologize all these years later for that. She laughs and says, "Those were your explosive years, I guess."
Then I mention the Japanese-American internment camps, something she once shared and I'd forgotten the details. Her father was a high ranking officer in the U.S. Army. She looks briefly sad, then says that over Christmas she will be flying to Hawaii to put him in assisted living. Her face brightens again, as if her personal cloud has passed. There is a sign on the door behind her that says THE DOOR TO NOWHERE. "He's here, watching TV; you should go see him!" Heading to the living room, she warns me, "He has forgotten most of his English."
Other devotees grab her attention so I enter the small room alone, fearful and shy. Taking in the pale yellow of the room, the black and white photographs of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, all artist's proof, 3/5 and signed for Ann by the photographer whose scrawl of a signature I cannot read, the shelves and shelves of books, art, found objects. Amidst this, sits an old man eating and watching football on TV. He sees me, jumps up, wiping his mouth with a white napkin and smiles, then bows to me. I bow back, hoping this is the right response. He says nothing, just smiles and takes both of my hands in his, bowing again. I bow back, then ask him if he's a Yankees fan. (He was wearing a Yankees jacket.) "YES!!!", he responds enthusiastically. I tell him Ann was my teacher many years ago and I met him at a Raku party. "YES!!!" he says. Perhaps he does remember some or all of it; it was a crazy night. "She's still beautiful", I tell him. His answer,"YES!!!", then he lets go of my hands, the light and smile leave his face. He bows solemnly; I bow back and leave him to his football game on TV.
After purchasing three pieces, Ann tells me in farewell she still makes all her students watch an 8mm film I shot of a Raku firing during a snowstorm. Vaguely remembering it, we discuss transferring it onto DVD so I can have the original. Walking to my car, I cannot believe all that tedious hand-splicing has held up all these years; always had trouble with the technicalities. Turning my car towards home, there's an enormous sign on an old building, WELCOME TO PITTSTOWN, ARE YOU LOST? Driving home, taking back roads, I sing, "What a Wonderful World," because some days it is.