The snow was falling lightly on the gas updraft as it cooled. I had a load of pots to get out and a few orders I was a bit stressed about. But it was a good kind of stress, as no matter if they were on time or late, they were pots that folks might enjoy. At least, I hoped. I need to work at estimating times as different things happen in different ways in life, and the plans get thrown off some.
I now have four kilns to fire out work in, but the bottleneck in everything is getting work made, trimmed, and dried. I place the pots by the wood stove, stacking them in bread racks. Design is the longest part, as more complex things need more touches and work. Even spending an extra minute on each item adds up when there are fifty or one hundred.
My background in manufacturing has paid off in project management. For larger orders, anyway. I create processes for how things are done and do the same for each, hopefully obtaining the same results. But in the end, it’s still handmade so there are variations.
I have more pots to fire out, but they are gifts for family members. I like to relax during Christmas, but this year I seem to have more pots to make for folks. I have a real hard time saying no. I have not even set up the tree in my house yet. Some years in the past we put up two trees. One on the porch and one inside. My parents use to stop over and help me decorate.
Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. Mostly it is due to good memories growing up. I was fortunate enough to have a good childhood surrounded by family. I was up early Christmas mornings to open gifts. Then would be early to Grandma and Grandpa’s house next door.
I would sit in front of the big tree tied to the wall with baling twine to keep it straight but still leaning. It would be decorated with the ornaments of old that grandma had for years in boxes. The tree went up early. At times to early as one year, all the needles fell off, and Grandpa had to put up a new one quick.
Grandma had a gift for everyone. Five aunts and four uncles, their spouses, and children. They would come later for Christmas dinner. But for now, I would try to find my gift from Grandma and Grandpa.
“Go on and dig through there.” Grandma would say.
I would crawl under the tree, in the pile, and look at them all to find my name.
“I bet yours is in the back there. Can you find it, Alfie? I hope you like it.”
I would rip open the package, and a crochet hat and mitten set would fall out. Truly a piece of art handmade by grandma, who would start them all in July. Also included would be one pair of socks. The socks were from grandpa. He would buy a pack of twenty and split them up. It was easier that way.
I put all those memories in an album in my mind and take them out to look at times. Way down where they will exist as long as I am able to remember. It is only sometimes healthy to sit on the living room floor of the mind going through photos of the way back; too long there can cloud the enjoyment of the present moment and the possibility of stories yet to be made. All the experiences then and now, all wrapped up in a picture album to move forward with a smile.
But not all way backs are as lovely, and some things are better left unopened, and some gifts are better left under the tree. Opening them up can be miserable for some who may not have had a life like a Norman Rockwell painting. All the pictures from life’s other side. It’s best not to force it.
Down at the Wright Choice Diner, Buttons had no gifts to open. As a matter of fact, he had loads to wrap up and forget. A full album of pictures from life’s other side. He sat slumped over his coffee, waiting to talk to the owner and cook, Big Jimmy.
Stacy, the new waitress, poured Buttons another coffee. He looked up at her, mumbled thanks, and put his head back down. He could hardly see out of his two swollen eyes from the beating he took. His ribs were sore from being kicked each time he took a breath.
He wished his dad was here. A tear rolled down his cheek, and dropped into the steaming coffee he was hunched over.
His mother died in childbirth, so his dad had to fill in. A big burly man who worked logging in the woods. He was always laughing, it seemed.
He would take Buttons every Saturday to get a load of logs. The big man would let Buttons sit on his lap and blow the horn of the log truck all the way through town. He would hand little Buttons the CB radio as soon as he was old enough to talk.
Say “Load ’em Up Boys!”
“Now you say that while you hit the horn like this!”
Every Saturday morning around 11: 00 A.M., any trucker within range heard a blaring horn, a big man laughing, and a little voice yelling, “Yahhhoooo Load ’em Up Boys!!” over the radio.
And the snow sledding in the moonlight in the winter. Button’s father knew the best logging roads to take a slide on. He would bundle Buttons up in a big puffy snowsuit and take the runner sled with them to the back logging roads. With Buttons on his lap, they would go so fast their eyes would water from the speed and laughter.
But all of that was the way back. It all came crashing down with a tree pinning his father to the ground one Saturday morning. He sent Buttons to run for help down on the main road. He ran as fast as his little feet could carry him.
Almost to the road, Buttons laid on his back to slide under a barbed wire fence and got tangled when a barb got stuck in the snowsuit zipper. Buttons struggled for more than twenty minutes before peeling himself out to run to the road to flag down a passing car.
Since then, he hated zippers. Mrs. Haggerty, his old Sunday school teacher, saw him crying alone after class before church service one Sunday. Buttons blamed himself for the death of his father.
“I can fix it some for you.” She said, hugging him in her arms with tears in her eyes.
“We can take all those old zippers out. I’ll put in buttons.”
Until she passed, He would take all his clothes to old Mrs. Haggerty to take out the zippers and sew in buttons. She never wanted any payment. She was one of few who cared to button up scars and pictures from life’s other side.
The song “Silent Night” played eerily in the background at the Wright Choice Diner and the cold wind blew up snow in the early morning light on the street outside.
“Big Jimmy is on his way. He has off on Sundays, so it may take him some time to get here,” said Stacy.
“You look terrible. Are you going to be okay?”
She was asking too many questions. Every worker at the Wright Choice Diner knew that if anyone came in asking for Big Jimmy, they would get a coffee and they wait. No matter who you were or what you looked like. No questions asked. But she was a new hire who still needed to be filled in.
Thirty minutes later, the door to the Wright Choice Diner opened, and the wind and snow swirled in around the giant figure of big Jimmy. He stomped his feet off on the mat and then signaled for a coffee. He came up behind slouching Buttons and sat across from him in the booth. Big Jimmy placed his big hands gently on Botton’s head, inspecting his swollen eyes, lips, and jaw.
” Jesus Christ, who did this to you? I paid Hobo Smoky good money to get you out of town. Seen you both get on the train myself. What the hell are you doing back here?”
Buttons winced from the pain as he tried to speak.
” I came back to talk to Chuck about getting a small bartending job at Millie’s. But he wasn’t around. Then, Dan, the Milkman, saw me and started talking shit. He asked if I had burned down any more trailers cooking meth lately. And I lost it.”
” Yeah, he can be a big mouth at times. I have been meaning to pay him a visit.”
” Jimmy, I didn’t burn that trailer down with Amanda and the baby cooking meth. I was trying to thaw out the pipes when the furnace quit. We ran out of fuel. Old man Bob got us ten gallons to put in the tank to get us to Friday, but the water froze, cobwebs under there caught fire, and it all went up really fast.”
” I know.. I know all about it. Your father was a good man. He would have me laughing until my sides hurt. When I put you on that train heading North, I thought you could start over somewhere else, but here you are. Still trying to make it to Friday.”
” Yeah, I know, Jimmy, but aren’t we all.”
Big Jimmy took a sip from his coffee and looked at the time on his phone.
” When was the last time you went to Church?”
” Well…I think it was back when old Mrs. Haggerty passed on. Maybe five years ago I think it was.”
” Dan’s wife makes him go to church every Sunday. They sit in the back because Dan makes them late due to his hangovers. It’s almost 11:00 and time for the main sermon. I think we should go to church today. What do you say?”
” Looking like this? Have you lost your mind, Jimmy? Plus they all probably think I’m a druggy or something. I can’t go looking like this.”
Jimmy pulled out his wallet, counted a few twenty-dollar bills, and slid them over. Buttons folded them and put them in his pocket.
” I’ll be there…no worries… I say we hear the sermon and help Dan the Milkman get right with the Lord.”
With that, big Jimmy got up and walked out. Buttons, not wanting to be left behind, followed, limping. He slowly lifted himself up into Jimmy’s truck and snapped his seatbelt in place carefully across his chest. Things were hurting terribly; he must have a few cracked ribs, if not broken. He could see his face in the truck mirror. It looked as bad as it hurt.
Big Jimmy put the truck in gear and drove toward the church. Then, when stopping at the only sign in town, a baseball bat rolled out from under the seat. The Church bells tolled a grainy recorded version of ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful” as Big Jimmy turned the corner, then another into the church parking lot.
There may not be a real Big Jimmy or a Milkman Dan. But there was a boy named Buttons. And there are real pictures in albums. At times, we may need to dig out the past, and other times, bury it. Albums stack up in the vaults of our minds. Both the good and the bad. I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. And for those with picture albums of life’s other side, there is no need to force yourself to be happy. Just live the day as you would any other, and know a few folks out there care. I care. Drop me a line if you get the time. This is the story of my small town. So I will tell it how I like.
Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.
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