A Thanksgiving Christmas & Elijah’s Chair

November was sure a busy month at the pottery.  After finishing up with the October Fall show, I set to making pots for the Christmas show. Work at the paper factory was a bit demanding, so I did not feel like potting all too much.  But plumbers need to do plumbing when they are called to, so I did what I could and made up a run of bowls.  The blue glaze turned out nice on the white clay body I am now using.   I was able to fire out the kiln on Thanksgiving Eve and have the kilns go down at 1:00 A.M. Thanksgiving morning.  I then took a nap and at 5:00 A.M., drove to upstate New York to visit my sister at 3 B Farm and Homestead.

A Thanksgiving Christmas

I arrived at 3 B Farm and Homestead around 8:00 a.m. in time for breakfast and woke them up, knocking to surprise them.   I was so happy to see them all and be together, as it has been quite some time.  My mother, who is now 88 years old was there also, and she was so happy to have us all in one place to celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday. Going to the family event was important for me as I tried to balance out work and family and the pots.  At times all together at once. I chuckle to myself. My sweet sister and brother-in-law always hand me a coffee or beer in one of my handmade mugs when I visit, and even at the dinner table, I am sure to use my serving bowls to make me swell with a bit of pride. 

But on my end, it is with a sigh of relief as I look over the pots they have collected from years past, and it creates a type of history in a way.  I breathe a sigh of relief that I was able to get anything through the kilns at all.  I had no idea what the pots I just fired looked like, as the kilns were still cooling back home. I am no longer impatient with the kilns and leave it up to the process, and maybe I have finally come to terms with simply dealing with whatever comes out and taking creative responsibility.

Taking creative responsibility is a challenge at times, and it is the self-talk and what Stephen  Pressfield calls “the resistance” that causes fear in us to be content and not take chances.  I have learned to take a chance and find out and, for better or worse, learn new things about what to do more of or avoid. Other times, the very things we avoid might be this “resistance” and might be the very thing we should do and move towards. This might be the difference between the professional and the hobbyist. The hobbyist may try to keep things relaxing and enjoyable. The hobbyist also might avoid certain challenging and difficult things so as not to make the creating feel like a job. 

On the other hand, the professional shows up every day and makes micro advances toward goals, works out problems, finds solutions, and learns to work with situations. A professional shows up every day to do good work that can bring about change.  A professional plumber does not work only on easy jobs and good pipes but is called on to fix the difficulties. I would not want a hobby heart surgeon who only works on hearts to feel happy and fulfilled working on me. I would pick a professional surgeon who is good at doing hard work and has built a reputation from past patients. I am not sure if I am a hobby potter or a professional. That may not be for me to decide on my own but may come with the types of projects I can complete and with work that brings about change and delights people.

For me, the Christmas show was a bit of a disappointment.  I came home from Thanksgiving with family to find over half the work in the kiln had the glaze defect I called finger nailing.  This would be a small mark in a fingernail shape that raised a little, causing a sharp edge defect. Twelve of the twenty-five would have this defect, and I was worried I might not have enough pots. Later I learned that the defect was caused by glazing the outside too soon before the inside was dry on the bone-dry pot. Then when I was fired, the glaze in certain sections lifted a little, causing the fingernail shape defect. In the end, everything worked out, but if I had to grade myself on the Christmas show, I would have given myself a D.

But just showing up with what I had was very enjoyable, as a few of my friends and customers did stop by and bought work that Black Friday weekend. My friend Nan, who is a potter also, brought work to show with me. I had a really fun time telling my story, talking with folks about their lives, and learning their stories as they shared them. Overall, the Thanksgiving weekend Christmas show went well and was sure a fun time even though it was overshadowed by defect loss.

It was great to get together with family and be with them during the holiday, eat good food, and spend time laughing and telling stories.  Another holiday preparation was going on in my small town of Laceyville, Pennsylvania. The whole town would accidentally find themselves all together for one of the best Thanksgiving days in a long time.

Elijah’s Chair

The heavy-loaded train slowed its speed as it entered the little sleepy town of Laceyville, Pennsylvania. Its loud horn echoed across the river, through the corn fields, and over the mountainside as it entered the straits.

Hobo Smoky tossed off his pack from a gently rocking sander car, then made the light jump and roll to the ground on the hard railroad gravel. The train cars clicked and squeaked by as Smoky brushed himself off and then walked back to find his pack.

“I’m getting too old for this shit.” He muttered under his breath.

Hobo Smoky found his pack and did a quick check to be sure he still had all his gear then slung it on his back and started walking down the tracks into town. The whole village was dark. Even the street lights were out. He walked using his small flashlight towards the Wright Choice Diner.

Smoky was able to make out one small light coming from the tin shed under the rickety back steps that led up to the back screen door of the little restaurant. Smoky heard the voice of the owner and cook,  Big Jimmy, from inside the little shed as he made his way closer in the dark.

“Damnit Buttons! Can you hold the light still so I can see to clean this spark plug wire! You’re shaking like a leaf! How about shining it where I’m working and not all over the place!”

“I’m trying, Jimmy!  My hands are colder than a penguin’s butt! Hurry up would you!” groaned Buttons.

“Shhhhh..I heard something. Who’s out there?” yelled Big Jimmy.

“Hey, it’s just me, Smoky! What’s going on? What happened to all the lights? The town late on paying the electric bill?”

Hey! Hobo Smoky, old boy! Great to see you! On your way up to Athens to see your daughter and grandson for the holidays, I take it?

“Yes, Sir! He’s growing like a weed! I caught a northbound into the Mehooopanay exchange. Got in about six, then caught a sand train out around eight, so I made good time, I would say. Why no lights, Jimmy?”

“Well, they say a load of stone lost its breaks coming out of the quarry up on Sam Hill and took out one of the main power lines when they hit the pole.”

Big Jimmy turned back to work on the spark plug wire.

“So Me and Buttons here are trying to get this generator fired up so things in the Diner freezer don’t thaw out before morning. That is if my guy here can hold the damn light still.”

“I’m trying, Jimmy! Just hurry before my hands freeze off!” whined Buttons.

Smoky looked over Button’s shoulder as Big Jimmy fumbled with sandpapering the wire.

“Well, there’s your problem right there, Jimmy. That spark plug is cracked. I might have one here in my pack. Shine the light over here, Buttons. It might be the right size, maybe.”

Hobo Smoky reached into the back pocket of his pack, pulled out a spark plug, and handed it to Big Jimmy.

Now, Hobo Smoky would collect all types of small things he had seen in his travels if he thought he could use it. Small tools, pieces of rope, wire, nails, jewelry, and half-smoked cigarettes and cigars if they were still dry. Also, riding the rails allowed him to see a lot of things and work different short-term odd jobs like being a day worker picking cabbage, painting barns, dishwashing, or, his favorite, cleaning small engines at a used lawnmower shop in Kentucky.

“Well, let me back this one out quickly and see what we got.”

Big Jimmy wrenched out the cracked sparkplug and held it next to the one Smoky gave him. He compared them both side by side in his big hands. He then screwed in the good one and reattach the plug wire.

“Smokey, I’m not even going to ask how you do that shit.  But this is like the fifth time you showed up just in time with somehow just the right thing. Now I’m going to pull this here cord, and if this damn thing starts, I just might give you a big bear hug. That is unless that would make you feel uncomfortable.”

“Well, I don’t need a hug for some old spark plug I found walking the tracks, Jimmy. Just pull the damn cord and see, will you?  Buttons here needs a hug more than I do. It might warm him up a bit.”

“Bull shit! I don’t need any hug, Smokey! Last time Big Jimmy here hugged me happy I almost had three broken ribs and a collapsed lung. And that was when he won the Superbowl pool over at Millie’s Bar. Come on pull the rope, Jimmy!”

Big Jimmy pulled the rope. The engine sputtered a bit, then died. but with a second pull the engine roared to life. The lights in the tin shed shown bright, the windows of the Wright Choice showed in the night with a soft warm glow, and Buttons took off running to avoid a big Jimmy happy hug.

“Well, that’s that!” Said Big Jimmy, smiling.

Jimmy felt his cell phone buzz and ring. He pulled it out of his back pocket with his big hands and looked at the screen. It was the preacher.

“Hey preacher, how are things? Yeah, I got the generator going. How much stuff do you need to keep cool until tomorrow? Yeah…Yeah…sure, I have room over here in the cooler…Yeah, we can have dinner in the Diner if we need to…yeah it will be warmer.. Okay..I’ll bring Smokey and Buttons with me to help move things if I can find him..okay..yep ..yep..see you in five..yep bye!”

Jimmy turned to Smoky.

“Let’s find Buttons and get the truck. The preacher has his Thanksgiving Charity dinners for about 200 people over at the church. We need to move it all to my cooler in the diner before it goes bad.”

With that they all went to work like a well-oiled machine. They finished moving all the food later into the night as it took a few trips after Big Jimmy made warm hot chocolate for them all before each went their separate ways.

“Hey, thanks, Jimmy, for all your help again. I had all that food ready to go tomorrow. I just had to warm it up in the morning, and then the electricity went out. You had just enough space in your cooler here it seems. Smoky! Nice to see you, Sir. And Buttons, thanks for helping out. You’re a fine young man. Your father would have been proud of you.”

“Well, you’re welcome, preacher,” said Big Jimmy, taking a sip of his hot chocolate and then wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“If you need to do up the dinner here tomorrow, that will be fine. We can send someone out to let folks know, and if others want, they can bring a little of what they have if they wish.”

“That sounds great, Jimmy. I also need to check on a few older people in town tomorrow if the lights are still out. I would feel bad if folks like Mrs. Blancher needed help with anything, and we did know. It not terribly cold out yet, but cold enough. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Jimmy. Maybe we can do Thanksgiving here from Noon to Three if we need to. Have a good night, guys. I am beat.”

“That sounds great, preacher. See you tomorrow.”

And with that, they all went their separate ways with plans to meet in the morning.

A light rain was falling when Buttons and Hobo Smoky knocked on old Mrs Blancher’s door for a wellness check. As the door slid open, the scent of apple pie was carried on the breeze.

“Hello Mrs. Blancher. Big Jimmy sent us over to see how you were doing with the electricity still off and all. It smells like you’re okay.”

“Buttons! How have you been? I have not seen you in quite some time. You look just like your father. He sure was a nice, happy man! And Smoky, it’s been about a year. How’s the grandbaby?

“Why thank you, Mrs. Blancher. I still do miss him.” Said Buttons, looking down.

“My grandbaby is almost walking now, Mrs. Blancher. I hope to hop a train in the morning and see the little girl tomorrow.”

“That’s great to hear Smoky! They sure grow up fast. Well, I need to go. I have to get a pie out. I have been baking in the gas oven to warm the place up some until the lights come back on. How are things over in town?”

“Well, still no lights, but Big Jimmy has the generator going and plans to warm up the charity Thanksgiving dinner for the church there. He wanted us to invite the townspeople over if they had no lights and didn’t want to eat alone. He said folks could bring a dish to pass if they liked. But it’s up to you for sure.”

“That sounds like a great idea! That Big Jimmy sure is a nice man. I’ll try to make it over. It would be so nice to see everyone. What time does the dinner start, Buttons?”

“It’s from noon to three, Mrs. Blancher and if you bring the pies I can smell here, well I might have a piece or two.”

A timer ding was heard from back in Mrs. Blancher’s warm kitchen.

“Well, It’s time to get the pies out. I’ll talk to you gentlemen later!”

Mrs. Blancher closed her door, and Buttons and Hobo Smoky made their way door to door through the quiet town, inviting folks to the big town Thanksgiving dinner at the Wright Choice diner. The last stop was at the new bakery in town. The Kosher Oven.

That’s where the Rabbi made the bread and bagels. Buttons cupped his hands around his eyes as he pressed against the big window to see if anyone was inside. He saw the soft glow of a warm yellow light in the back; he thought as Hobo Smoky knocked on the bakery door.

The Rabbi answered and unlocked his shop.

“Good morning, gentlemen. How can I help you today?”

“Good morning, Mr. Rabbi sir..well, big Jimmy from the diner up the street here wanted us to let you know we were having Thanksgiving dinner, and if you wanted, you could stop by, being that the lights in town were out and all Mr. Rabbi, sir.”

Buttons was a bit nervous as the Rabbi was new in town, and he had never met a Rabbi before. Everyone out here was a bit Baptist with Methodist sprinkles on top because the Methodists had to use the Baptist church for services when their own church burned down due to a lightening strike three years ago. To save an argument, it was decided that the strike was not to be publicly called “an act of God” so as not to promote the idea that the good Lord favored one denomination over the other, even though some in town may have thought so.

“Why, thank you for the invite, gentlemen! My name is Rabbi Asher ben Jehiel, but you can call me Rabbi Asher if you like. And who might you two be?”

“Well, they call me Buttons, and they call him Smoky. Hobo Smoky. It sure smells nice in here, Rabbi Asher, sir.”

“Well, come on in, guys! No need to stand out in the rain. I was just baking up the last of the bead and plan to take the rest of the day off. What time is this dinner? It sounds like a really nice way for me to finally get out and meet the folks of this town.”

Buttons took off his hat as they stood in the warm storefront. The Rabbi was almost as tall as Big Jimmy. He wore round glasses and a white apron dusted with flour over his black shirt and pants. His stomach stuck out some, and his big smile showed through his big bushy beard that all together gave Buttons the impression he was a jolly man.

“It all starts at noon, Rabbi sir. And Big Jimmy over at the diner there says you can bring a thing or two to pass if you wish, but don’t feel obligated.”

“Well, that sounds wonderful! I’ll bring over some of this fresh bread I just got out. Any word about when the electricity will be back on?”

“No, not yet, Rabbi Asher sir. The power company is working on it up in the Sam Hill quarry. But no news yet on anything. Well, it was nice chatting, Sir. Smoky and I have a few more stops to make, so we better go. I hope to see you later, Mr. Rabbi Sir.” Said Buttons, turning to leave.

“Well, here is something for the road, gentlemen. It might warm you up some inside.”

The Rabbi handed Buttons and Smoky a warm slice of freshly baked bread. With that, they walked back towards the diner to help Big Jimmy set up tables and chairs.

Everything for dinner was ready at noon sharp at Big Jimmy’s direction, and the food the townfolk brought to pass was laid out on a table. The setup looked amazing as the generator hummed outside, providing the warm lights and heat that added to the comfy feeling of the Thanksgiving Holiday.

Once everyone was seated, Big Jimmy came out of the back and asked for everyone’s attention.

“Thanks for coming, everyone, and I hope you all are doing okay with the lights out and all. Pastor Mansfield has a few words to say before we eat. The floor is yours, preacher.” said Big Jimmy as he ducked back into the kitchen.

The preacher stepped forward.

“First of all, I would like to thank the Good Lord we are all here today alive and well, even though the town has been dark since last night. Thanks again to the Clapper farm for donating the turkeys and potatoes this year.

Thanks also to the Davis Saw Mill for donating gas money to make the dinner deliveries to those who are shut in. Thanks also to everyone who helped out to make the dinner possible and to Big Jimmy and his staff for cooking and letting us use his diner here at the Wright Choice.

Thanks to Mrs. Blancher for the beautiful pies and the good Rabbi Asher standing beside me now for the great-smelling bread. Now I would like to give the Rabbi a chance to say a few words before I say the blessing for the food. Rabbi Asher.”

The Rabbi nodded and began to speak.

” I would like to start off by saying thanks to everyone in town who has made me feel welcome here over the last few months. Thanks to pastor Mansfield and Jimmy for helping me feel right at home by helping me set up the bakery and move the big ovens in.

I am not sure if it is by design or chance that there is only one seat left there in the back. In Judaism, we may refer to that empty seat as “Elijah’s Chair,” which is primarily associated with the Passover Seder, a ritual feast that marks the beginning of Passover. In Jewish tradition, Elijah the Prophet is a biblical figure who is believed to herald the coming of the Messiah.

Elijah is seen as a symbol of hope and redemption. But it can also be saved for the stranger to sit among us. At times we may find ourselves strangers. So it is important to treat others as we wish to be treated. This can be one of the hardest things to do and can take practice.

Like Elijah’s chair can represent hope and anticipation for a peaceful and redeemed future, Thanksgiving can also be a time to express hopes for a better world and to commit to actions that help bring about positive change. Just as the extra seat for Elijah can symbolize open-hearted hospitality, Thanksgiving is also a time for welcoming others into our homes and being thankful for the blessings we have.

Families might choose to set an extra seat at their Thanksgiving table as a symbol of hospitality and openness to those needing a place to celebrate. In the Torah, Leviticus 19:34 reads, “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as a native from among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord, your God.”

So thank you, everyone, for your kindness and hospitality, even though we all might be different and strangers in many ways. Pastor Mansfield, back to you.”

Pastor Mansfield then asked everyone to bow their heads and began saying the blessing over the food. The door to the Wright Choice slowly opened, and Hobo Smoky slid in like a wet cat, taking the last open chair at the table in the back. Looking around and noticing the preacher was saying grace, he took off his hat and bowed his head. The rain dripped off his wet face. The Rabbi smiled.

Now, there may not have been a Rabbi, a Big Jimmy, or a Hobo Smoky, but somewhere, someone was setting out an Elijah’s Chair because they care. Do justice and love mercy, be kind to the stranger, and maybe things will work out. This is my town and my story. So I get to tell it how I like.

Written By,

Al Wayman

Artist/Owner

Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.

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One Reply to “A Thanksgiving Christmas & Elijah’s Chair”

  1. Hey Al! This is Greg from our Purple Group meeting on Purple. Got your email, but as the return address is a Purple-generated address, I think if I respond to it, it will automatically get posted on the Purple page. (Their system sucks.) I like your website! Would love to talk/zoom directly with you. I think we have a lot to teach each other! I’ll email you he ebook version of “How to be Mildly Brilliant.”

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