Winter Break & A Hand-Whittled Doll

The weather was unusually warm for December and most of January, so I decided to take a winter break at the pottery and focus on direction-setting. However, I was heartbroken to learn about the passing of two supportive customers of the pottery. We had a few days of hard rain, and the days were short, so I took the opportunity to visit with my family and plan for the new year.

Winter Break

To ensure that I could continue making pottery with gratitude and build it to interact with people and the community for positive change, I used ChatGPT to generate a realistic schedule that included more key activities than just making and selling pots. These key activities are essential to keep all aspects of the pottery running, but I tend to get disorganized and distracted by chasing squirrels. Taking time off to do direction-setting and plan things better felt good.

I also received help from some great folks who provided insight and coaching and understood the puzzle I was trying to put together while making pots. I met some great people on Seth Godin’s Purple Space, where I could work on my projects and have others contribute their ideas and opinions from a top-down point of view. Sometimes, people get stuck working in their business instead of on it and lose sight of the bigger picture they are putting together.

Creating a mastermind group of makers that meets twice a month to go over goal-setting and accountability has been helpful for me to gain insight from others through group participation and networking, leading to amazing progress with how I organize. It’s humorous to me that I had organization as a guiding principle for the pottery, but the place was for sure disorganized until I took the time to plan and receive help from others.

A few new things I started were posting my daily journaling to the The Pottery Dailies page. There, I am attempting to post my thoughts each day, and maybe something I think, say, or discover through introspection might help another person at some point. I also started the Creek Road Pottery Pen Pal program. I have about ten folks who have a fun time writing, and I write back in an old-time fashion that includes a stamp and a walk to the mailbox. I never knew interacting with people in old-time ways was so much fun. I try and have a scheduled time for that also. Lastly, I am trying to have the podcast and blog updates on a set schedule, along with actually making pots on some daily routine as a form of practice. Writers write, runners run, and potters pot.

Also, the plans for rebuilding the wood kind are in the works, and the full project is halfway done as I deconstructed it and got the kiln moved here. I plan to have a group meeting and coffee here with the team of people who will be helping me fire it all out and help coach me on its firing. And I had a new wedging table made up by the good and handy Chuck Culnane. The table is solid like a rock, with more lag bolts in it than a hardware store. Chuck did an amazing job, and I’ll have it for life for sure. You can see the well-built table by clicking here.

The winter months and the holidays sure were a relaxing time and gave much-needed rest and relaxation. It was a great time to read a few books, visit family, and spend time thinking a bit about life. Some take short days and long nights to self-reflect, and others busy themselves so they do not fall into seasonal depression. Some run towards the trouble in their minds, and others run from it. A few run both ways at times. It was on New Year’s Eve when Hobo Smoky hopped a sand train outside the Wright Choice Diner in Laceyville and headed north to Athens, Pennsylvania.

A Hand-Whittled Doll

Hobo Smoky sat huddled under a space that was just large enough for him to crawl into, out of the wind and elements. He was riding a heavily loaded sand train as it rumbled through the landscape next to the winding cold Susquehanna River. Smoky had hoped to make it to his daughter’s place by Christmas, but he had some work to do for Big Jimmy that made him late.

With the sander car rocking, Smoky held a small flashlight between his teeth in the dark as he whittled and wrapped the finishing touches on a toy doll he was making for someone special. He wrapped the corn husk with string and attached the wooden whittled head with wire from an old coat hanger. With his hands growing numb from the cold, he winced as he pushed the stiff wire over itself and bent it under to hold the corn husk doll together. He held the little doll up in the dim light to see. He hoped she would like it. She was almost five now, so it was hard to tell.

The train began to slow down as it raddled and rocked its way through the sleepy town of Athens, Pennsylvania. It was 9:00 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, and a light rain was falling as Hobo Smoky took the opportunity to toss his pack and hop off the train undetected behind a large warehouse. He headed south back into town and came to a small white house with a leaning front porch and a broken board on the top step. A soft, hazy blue glow from a television could be seen through the side window, and a warm yellow glow of a kitchen light shone in the front door. Smoky knocked gently with his knuckle twice. The door slid open. His daughter Mary Ann greeted him.

“Daddy! It’s so nice to see you. I was expecting you for Christmas, but you didn’t show up. It made me worry. Come on in. You’re soaked to the bone.”

“Yeah, I had a job to do for Big Jimmy. I didn’t want to stay, but he paid me well. I would rather not talk about it.” said Smoky, squinting his eyes to adjust to the light.

A single tear welled up in the eye of Hobo Smoky and trickled down his dirty, weather-beaten face. “Mary Ann, my sweet girl, you look just like your mother there in the light. I think about her every day and miss her so. She left us to ourselves in the world far too early.”

“I know, Daddy. I miss her so much also. Cancer is sure a terrible thing. But I know she is up there among the angels, looking down on us with a smile. Come on in, and I’ll get little Cassie.”

Smoky wiped his eyes with the back of his hand as he stood in the kitchen. Family photos of better days were stuck to the refrigerator. He took off his hat, took a deep breath, and swallowed the lump of sadness in his throat. Mary Ann returned with Cassie on her hip. She was four now and growing like a weed. Her curly brown hair was held back in a red bow.

“Can you say hi to Pappy?”

Little Cassie shrank back shyly, nuzzling her face into her mother’s shoulder. Smoky reached forward and rubbed her warm little cheek with his hand. As he stepped into the light, Cassie remembered him and put out her arms to him. Relieved, Smoky took his little granddaughter in his arms and hugged her tightly as the tears started to well up again.

“Hi, Pappy!” said little Cassie.

After a big hug that ended far too soon, Smoky gently placed little Cassie on the kitchen floor and reached into his backpack.

” Pappy has a gift for you, baby girl.”

He pulled out the handmade doll he had finished on the train an hour earlier. Little Cassie took the doll, examined it, and then hugged it to her chest.

“Can you say thank you to Pappy?” asked her mother.

“Thank you, Pappy.” said little Cassie shyly.

“You’re welcome, sweetheart. I hope you have fun playing with them.” replied Smoky.

“She sure does, Daddy. She plays tea time and house with all of them all the time. She now has a collection of all the ones you made. I have a little shelf in her room where they all sit together.” said Mary Ann, handing Smoky a coffee.

“So, what kind of work have you been doing for Big Jimmy? I know everyone thinks he’s a nice man in town, but he’s involved in some really shady things. People say he cooks his books like he cooks eggs and that the Wright Choice restaurant he runs is just a front for funneling money. I heard about that close call he had up in the quarry. Buttons said some black car met him up there. Said they looked like they were rich and from the city. Said they beat Jimmy up pretty bad, and Jimmy took it because no one beats up Big Jimmy.”

“I don’t want to talk about it, Mary Ann. And Buttons needs to keep his mouth shut. Or he might have a bad time.” mumbled Smoky.

“Well, Buttons wasn’t spying or anything. He was just out shooting cans up there. When he heard them all coming, so he hid. He had a bead drawn on the guys but didn’t get a shot off. It’s a good thing he didn’t. They would rain holy hell down on the town should one of those big city guys, connected to who knows what, take a bullet out there. We don’t need that around here.” said Mary Ann, sipping her coffee.

“Well, that’s my job. That’s what I do. I try to stay alive and keep Big Jimmy out of trouble.”

“If Momma was alive, you wouldn’t be into all of that, no matter how much Big Jimmy paid you. It’s time you settled down and gave all that up. Go tell Big Jimmy you quit, and for heaven’s sake, get off the damn trains.”

“Well, there’s a reason why I ride the rails.”

“I know, Daddy, but Momma isn’t on the rails. You’re not going to find her out there. You carry her way down in your mind, and there’s no use trying to bring her back. She would want us all to be happy and alive. You have little Cassie and me to worry about. So you just stay away from Big Jimmy, you hear me?”

“Yeah, I hear you, sweetie. But I’m too involved just to leave Big Jimmy hanging. I’ll take care of myself. Don’t you worry. We have this one thing we still need to do to even things up a bit. Then I can quit and feel good about it,” said Smoky, looking down to avoid her piercing eyes.

“How’s Robby been treating you? Is he good to you and Cassie? If not, I know some folks, and we could have a friendly chat with him about it all.”

“You’ll do nothing like that, Daddy! He’s a good man and works hard down at the warehouse running forklift. He’s on overtime today for some extra money. We are saving up for a nice camping trip in the summer.”

“Well, that’s good to hear, I guess.”

Hobo Smoky could only stay for a brief visit before he felt the urge to roam. On the morning of the second day, he slipped out early, leaving Mary Ann a short note telling her he was off. He taped a wrinkled-up dollar bill to the note for her to buy little Cassie some candy, then walked to the tracks to hide out until a southbound train eased by. Once on a lonely rocking grainer car, he opened his wallet and took out the last faded picture he had of his late wife. A tear dripped on the photo as his thumb rubbed her cheek.

Now, there might not be a Hobo Smoky or a Big Jimmy. But someone somewhere has something down in their minds. Both good and bad. Some, after they have seen much and have travelled far, even enjoy their suffering after a time.

This is my town and my story. So I get to tell it how I like.

Written By,

Al Wayman


Creek Road Pottery L.L.C.

If you enjoyed this post and love pottery, sign up for our newsletter and become a raging fan.

2 Replies to “Winter Break & A Hand-Whittled Doll”

  1. HI Al,
    I would love to join the pen pal program! I just mailed some letters off to friends today…complete with stamps! What do I need to do to become a pen pal?

    1. Sure! My address is Creek Road Pottrery LLC
      917 Creek Road
      Laceyville, Pa 18623

      I super enjoy handwriting in an old time way!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

five × one =