A Wood Kiln:
May went by so fast that I hardly had time to get anything written. Other than that, May went by relatively slowly. I was able to get a few firings in. Those firings were all cups because the forms dried out before I could get the handles on. I was preoccupied with other things, and the pots were put on the back burner as I could only concentrate on one thing at a time. But it’s better that way.
We may explore and do new things when we slow down to observe and absorb. This has been relatively dry due to the lack of rain this month, but May was wet and cool. “A Cold wet may is a barn full of hay.” Most of the farmers in the hills of these parts of Pennsylvania were able to get their first cutting in early.
I spent a whole week of vacation reading a book called Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. It was an excellent read and was all the things I was not doing and should be. Every time I read a book, it’s all the things I was not doing but should be. But I let myself off the hook by telling myself that we are all working on something. It was an excellent excuse to use while I did nothing on a week of vacation. The last time I did nothing on vacation was back in the year of the pandemic, 2020. But a few things did happen all on their own without too much action from me.
It was around 1 pm on Mother’s Day, May 14th, 2023, that I got a text on my phone as I trimmed out some bone-dry pots in my basement studio. It would be best if you did not trim bone-dry pots due to the issues of dust, so I had to sit outside in a mask and file them down with a wood rasp. It took some time as I had about seventy pots. I felt my phone buzz and looked at the message. “Al, do you want a wood kiln? Call me as soon as you can!” I was slow on this vacation but have yet to answer a text so fast in my life.
The wood kiln “Ana, was owned by my professor and his assistant, who worked at Marywood University’s ceramic department at the time. When I was an undergrad, we would go out to my professor’s place and fire out student work in the wood kiln twice a year. It was a fantastic experience and took teamwork and long hours, but we all got many lovely pots from the firings. I could not believe that the very kiln I fired over 23 years ago was coming to my backyard. I had no idea how but brick by brick three thousand times in my little red wagon if I needed.
Wood kilns come with a community no matter where they go. The task of firing a wood kiln takes more than one, and since I enjoy community building, I am very much excited about this whole project. I made the trip to see “Ana” and her owners, old mentors, and friends from the past, and we had a lovely time catching up and looking Ana over.
We pulled off her rain tarps that provided extra cover under the pavilion that housed her, and I looked inside her firebox and wear chamber. Ana was not a large kiln, nor was it small. She was the perfect size for my pottery.
“How high is her stack?” I asked.
“Twenty feet high, I think.” Said Matt looking up.
“She still fired out great. I’m just not able to fire her anymore. “
The owners turned over all the log books and firing notes to me in a well-used file folder and notebook. More information arrived a few weeks later in a packet that contained troubleshooting guides and a book on wood firing which would be helpful. I had a lot of studying to do as each kiln is different; also, when moved, the same takes some time to learn and get to know as all the variables change. But at least with the notes, it would help with working out the firing schedule and firing process and management.
So as the cherry and apple blossoms bloomed in the cool early summer air, I now had a whole new project drop into my lap. I needed to make time for Ana to come here, so I disappointed a few people and canceled some wholesale orders to relieve some stress and make some time. I felt terrible to disappoint, but I was not going to say no to a free wood kiln. I felt lucky and honored to be given the responsibility of having Ana here at the pottery, and I look forward to the fantastic community she will bring with her.
But I was not the only one who had good fortune seemly drop from the sky. Across town, Rickey Benson also had a great start to the summer and was feeling upbeat. He was so positive that he now whistled as he walked, dragging his left leg that was limp from a childhood disease. At times all it takes is an act of kindness to make someone’s life a little better, and that is precisely what happened to Rickey at the summer music festival, at the ballpark, on the edge of town.
Ricky Benson lugged the heavy push mower across Mrs. Blancher’s lawn along with his lame left leg. A mother robin scolded from inside the large Rhododendron bush, worried for her young nesting there as the loud mower sent grass clippings onto the sidewalk leading up to the front steps of Mrs. Blancher’s house. Ricky needed to be needed twenty more dollars for the music festival this weekend. He had forty already.
Ricky needed sixty dollars for the music festival because it was twenty to get in, another twenty for food, and another twenty for a ticket for Lindsey Carter. That is, if she said yes to a cripple old fool like him. Lindsey Carter was in a few of his classes in high school, but Ricky was too afraid to even talk to her. He would limp in and sit in the back, while she would sit more towards the front with her friends.
The girls all dressed very stylishly and looked beautiful to Ricky. He wanted to say hi, but who would talk to a guy with a bum leg from a childhood disease? But this year, his senior year, he felt a bit more brave and different about it all.
When Ricky was finished, he turned off the push mower and went up the steps, and knocked on the door.
“Okay, Mrs. Blancher. I guess that’s about it. Suppose you would like to come out and see it. I got right up next to the edge of the flower bed real careful, just like you wanted.” Said Ricky to Mrs. Blancher, slowly making her way down the steps.
“You did a fine job, Ricky! You even moved the garden hose and wound it up for me. You are a good man, paying attention to details. Most kids would have mowed the thing right over! Nice job, son!”
“Thanks, Mrs. Blancher. Said Ricky standing a bit taller with pride
“Come on in the house, and I’ll pay you. I just made a pitcher of cold lemonade if you got time to stay for a drink. I know a smart guy like yourself won’t say no to that. So what do you plan to do with all your hard-earned money?”
“Well, I’m saving up to go to the music festival. I needed about sixty dollars, I figure, for the ticket and food and have forty already,” said Ricky as he took a sip of lemonade while sitting in Mrs. Blanche’s kitchen.
“You taking a girl? That sounds like it would be a nice summer date! Back when my husband and I were young, we went to quite a few festivals in the summer and always had a great time. Only if I were young again and my husband still alive.”
Ricky looked down at his glass of lemonade. His finger tapped nervously on the side of the cold drink as beads of moisture dripped down the side. He continued.
“I was going to ask Lindsey Carter. That’s what I was planning to do with the other twenty. But I still need to ask her before I get the ticket.”
“Ohhh.. she’s a real nice girl. Her mother works at the bank. I’ve known them for years. I knew her father when he was still in high school about your age. All good folks. You better ask before someone else does, or you’ll be going alone! “
“Yeah, I know. I was just a little worried she might not want to go with me. I might trip her accidentally the way I limp around and all.”
Mrs. Blancher stood straight and tall and prepared herself for the big sermon she was about to bring down hard on the poor, insecure young man sipping lemonade in her kitchen. A warm, gentle breeze billowed out the curtains as the good Mrs. Blancher put her hands on her hips and took a deep breath.
“Young man, don’t you ever think or speak such crazy talk to yourself or to me! By heavens! Life is far too short to hold yourself back by such nonsense. There have been millions of people who might have something wrong but pushed on as if nothing was different. It may take hard work and courage to get started but don’t deny yourself a nice date with a pretty girl all because of how you walk. You’re a fine young man just the way you are! Now, here is thirty dollars. Take it and go ask that girl Lindsey to that festival. Do you hear me, Son? “
Anyone who knew Mrs. Blancher knew you didn’t say no. She was a kind but stern lady and would waste no time teaching life skills if she thought anyone needed a little coaching in that area. Stevie Mills found that out the hard way while working over at Connie’s Supermarket. The good Mrs. Blancher coached him on bagging, holding up the whole checkout for thirty minutes, and teaching the boy after he put her bread on the bottom.
“Thanks for everything, Mrs. Blancher, and thanks for the extra money. I should go. I’ll be sure to ask her.” Ricky stuffed the rolled-up cash in his pocket and stood up to leave.
“Thanks for mowing. If you stop back in two weeks, I’ll have more out there for you for sure.”
Ricky made his way out the door and down the steps swinging his leg behind him. Grabbing the electrical tapped handle of the push mower, he lugged it across Mrs. Blanche’s lawn and down the sidewalk on his way home.
Almost home, he decided to stop at Randy’s Gas Station and get a pack of peanut M&Ms . Leaving his mower outside, he limped to the candy aisle three. While picking out the bag of candy, he overheard a few girls talking. Ricky strolled to the end of the aisle and peeked around the corner. Three girls were at the refrigerator door deciding what soda pop to buy. One of those girls was Lindsey Carter.
“I’ll take an orange soda pop.” Said one girl to the other.
“Lindsey, did you get your ticket for the festival next weekend? It should be a blast!”
“Yes! My mom got one at a discount from the bank for me. Are you two going?” Asked Lindsey Carter as she pulled down a cherry soda pop from the top shelf.
“We are! They are supposed to have some great bands this year. It should be a fun weekend. I can’t wait.”
Ricky hid near the candy section until the girls paid and left. He gave them some time before going to the checkout himself. He looked out the door to make sure the coast was clear before leaving the store and limping back home, lugging his push mower.
“Well, that solves that problem. She already has a ticket, so she doesn’t need the one I was going to buy. Maybe I’ll go and have a fun time and maybe talk to her there.” Ricky thought as the hot summer sun beat down on him as he made his way back home.
The following Saturday morning, there was a long line at the festival gate. Ricky showed up fashionably late, so he didn’t have to stand long. He gave his ticket to the lady running the admission booth and put on the red wristband saying you paid. Ricky then limped over to the refreshment booth and bought a soda pop, then looked for an excellent place to sit. He picked the top center so he could lean back and enjoy the show. There were loads of people there as he scanned the crowd. Loads of people and Lindsay Carter and her two friends.
“Fifty-Fifty Raffle tickets here! Fifty-Fifty Raffle tickets!” Yelled a man with an orange T-shirt.
Ricky waved, and the man came over.
“How much?” asked Ricky
“Two for five dollars or six for ten dollars.”
“I’ll do six for ten dollars, please.” Said Ricky digging out the money from his pocket.
“Thanks for supporting the local fire company. I hope you win! ” Said the man as he went on his way through the crowd.
The bands played all day, and everyone was having a good time. Ricky stayed up in the back on top and tapped his foot to the music of the songs he knew.
He could see Lindsey Carter and her friends dancing in front of the stage. Ricky thought he should go down and say hi. But then came the raffle drawing. Ricky dug out his tickets. He never won anything, but he wanted to be sure he didn’t win.
As the numbers were called, Ricky checked his tickets, and he didn’t win the big raffle as he expected. But there were other prizes, so he waited for the additional tickets to be drawn.
“Now for the drawing for the thirty lottery tickets! Wow, someone could get rich! Okay, what’s the number? Alright, we have 8657! Does anyone have 8657? ” Boomed the announcer.
Ricky looked to make sure he didn’t win, but it looked like maybe he did. He couldn’t believe it as he never won anything in his life, but as he squinted and shaded his ticket from the summer sun to see it better, it looked like he did win.
“Going once! Going twice? Anyone win, or do we draw again?”
Ricky jumped to his feet and waved his ticket in the air to get the announcer’s attention in time.
“We have a winner, folks. You up top in the back, come on down, and get your prize! Congratulations! Let’s give a round of applause, folks, for this lucky young man!”
As the crowd clapped, Ricky limped his way down the steps and to the stage. He never was in front of so many people at one time, so he felt a bit of anxiety. He made it to the dusty dance area near the stage, then tripped and fell into the dirt. He heard a few laughs, but most looked over each other’s shoulders from the audience in concern.
Ricky started to get up on one knee, but his bum leg gave out at the wrong time and down he went again in the dust in front of the stage in the middle of the big music festival. He made a second attempt to get back up. Then he heard a voice call down to him.
“Need a hand to help you up, Ricky Benson?”
He turned and saw a hand reaching down to him. As he shaded his eyes to see, it was as if he was surrounded by an angel band. As he raised his eyes up from the ground, Ricky saw three sets of pink cowboy boots with rhinestones around him. He took the soft hand that extended to him and squinted to see who offered the kindness.
Still blinded by the sun, he was able to make out the shades of Lindsey Carter and her friends. They appeared as angels with the sun shining so brightly down from behind them.
“Here, Ricky Benson, let me dust you off some.” she swatted at his knees, and her friends dusted off his shirt.
“Thanks very much, Lindsey. I need to walk slower. I trip when I’m nervous and in a hurry.”
“No need to thank me. Go on up and claim your prize and then meet us here and we’ll walk you back up through the crowd,” said Lindsey. “Go on now!”
Ricky claimed his prize, and the crowd applauded. Walking back, he met up with Lindsey Carter and her friends. She took his hand and led him to the back of the park, where the picnic tables were in front of the large broken fiberglass wind turbine blade.
“Well, let’s see what you won, Ricky Benson!” Said, Lindsey
Ricky pried open the frame and collected the pile of thirty lottery tickets. There were all types, and by the looks, it might take a person at least thirty minutes to scrape over each one. Lindsey Carter took charge. Digging in her pocket, she gave her two friends each a dime and a penny for herself, and the girls went to work.
As they scrapped off each ticket, Ricky sat and watched as the three beautiful girls in their cowgirl outfits and cowgirl hats sat with him together at the picnic table just as he was with no care in the world. Not a consideration of how he looked or how he walked. Maybe old Mrs. Blancher was right. Perhaps he was too hard on himself, and maybe life was too short. His thoughts were cut short by one of the girls as they scratched off a winning ticket.
“Wow! Ricky Benson, you might be a rich man! You just won forty dollars here!” Said Lindsey’s friend.
“For sure! I scratched off a hundred dollars in winnings so far with the ones I have, it looks!” said Lindsey squinting to see better.
“Yes! I won another twenty dollars on this one. ” Said her other friend
By the time the girls were done scratching tickets at the picnic table, it was getting late in the afternoon. They added up the total.
“Wow, Ricky Benson! You won three hundred and twenty dollars. Congratulations.” Said Lindsey Carter smiling at him.
“I want to buy you all ice cream for helping me up. I would have had a terrible time had you all not been there.” Ricky pulled a twenty from his pocket and flattened it out on the table.
“You will do no such thing,” said Lindsey Carter. ” We were glad to help. Besides, I’ll buy the ice cream for us all. You keep your money and save it. No need to spend it on us girls. “
“Well, let me pay at least for yours then. Just as a way of saying thanks.”
Lindsey Carter smiled and put her hands on her hips. “Ricky Benson! Are you offering to buy me an ice cream? Because if you are, that means this just turned into a date.”
Ricky blushed red and looked down at the table.
“Well, I may be making this a date then if you say so. I mean. You are cute and all. I like chocolate swirl with sprinkles, and if I get two, I may need help eating one. “
“We can go get the ice creams and bring them back to you two love birds. We’ll gibe you the change, Ricky, and we’ll buy our own so you don’t accidentally date us too.” One of the girls laughed as they both got up from the table and took the crinkled twenty, leaving Lindsey Carter and Ricky Benson alone to chat some.
It was a perfect end to an almost perfect day. At least half the day was perfect, the last half sitting next to Lindsey Carter. She took his hand and gave it a squeeze.
” So you think I’m cute, huh?” asked Lindsey Carter.
“Yeah. I think you are.”
“How cute? Cuter than a litter of puppies, kittens, or baby piglets? “
“Well.. maybe not that cute, but almost.” Ricky teased back.
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