Mom’s house: Pumpkins, pilgrims and Santa

Posted by GT on October 9th, 2008 — Posted in Newspaper columns

Originally published in May 2006, The Daily Sentinel, Grand Junction, Colo.

Gnomes, rabbits, deer and I think even a couple of frogs populated Mom’s flower gardens. Shiny pots held plants all over the back porch. Ghosts, jack-o’-lanterns, a witch and black cats with sparkling beads for eyes took up residence in our living room every October. In November, two pilgrims flanked a turkey in the room. Then, in December, we shared our space with reindeer, angels, choir singers, several versions of Santa and Mrs. Claus and, most notably, a multi-piece Nativity set.

All these things were ceramics, and all were lovingly brought to life over the years on my mother’s work table.

Mom’s interest in ceramics is an “always” thing for me; I don’t remember a time when she wasn’t involved with them. While other hobbies – such as macramé and collecting little spoons – came and went, she stuck with ceramics and learned so much about them that I’m sure she qualifies as an expert. Mixing and storing the materials, casting, tools, kilns, lighting, various glazes and paints … this is just some of the stuff I know she knows. It’s stuff I learned about through years of watching her, and also watching Dad, who took charge when it was time to work with the heavy molds.

To me, Mom’s brightly colored ceramics were the best. I remember walking through ceramics shops with her and frowning at the painted pieces on display, thinking, “Mom could do better.”

My favorite of her pieces was probably a pretty simple one to paint: a ghost carrying a jack-o’-lantern. It looked like a person with a sheet over his head, cradling the pumpkin under one arm. The ghost was all white, the pumpkin orange, and the eyes on both were holes, showing the shadows behind them in the hollow figure.

I carried that ghost around the house so much when I was little that I’m sure Mom had to periodically wash off finger smudges.

Today, that same ghost haunts my hobby room 11 months out of the year; during the 12th month – October – it moves out to our living room where anyone can see it. It’s still my favorite of Mom’s works, but it’s far from the only one we have.

In our house, we also have holiday decorations, a wizard, a carousel dragon, the clown night light Mom made when I was little and afraid of the dark and, outdoors, a glossy black horse (which I think is my older girl’s favorite).

Next time I get back to Colorado Springs, I’m going to grab the ceramic space capsule container that holds my baby teeth and collection of money Dad brought home from Southeast Asia in the early ’70s. I’m also going to finally bring home the Peanuts characters who smiled at me in my bedroom for so many years.

Reminders of Mom’s love of ceramics are still all over my parents’ home. Those gnomes and animals are still in the gardens, the pots on the porch, the holiday figures in their storeroom. The basement is full of unfinished pieces, her kiln still stands in the laundry/workroom, her paints are still on the shelf, and her table is where it has been forever.

I think she still gets downstairs once in awhile to do a little work, but haven’t seen her do it in years. Sometimes I miss that, but looking around at all the lovingly crafted pieces shared with my family and my sisters’, I know the work of Mom’s hands will be with us, our children and hopefully even our children’s children for a long time to come.

We all have a few possessions here and there that are worth a few bucks, but the ceramics … those are truly valuable.

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