There's a big boulder of granite -- nobody knows how big because nobody
ever tried to dig it up -- but only the very tip of it rises just above
the sod at the north end of the yard (in the shade of a long-spent,
untended pear tree). That tip of a boulder acted as home base for
thousands of hide'n'seek, kickball and baseball (played with a tennis
ball) games (A home run was over the pines that lined the south end of the yard).
I used to cut that acre into walking paths and then, finally, after
creating mazes, mow over the whole thing -- always after the grass was
too tall to cut well. We mowed the yard with a series of cheap Sears
mowers with bald tires and Briggs&Stratton engines that usually gave
up the ghost by mid-Summer. Then we'd take turns mowing with a push
Between the nine-apple-tree orchard and the pie shape of
pines and at the edge of the property was our burn pile. Just about
every other day one of us six kids would walk the burnable trash out
there and set in on fire. On cold days we'd stand by watching styrofoam
meat platters melt over cereal boxes. We could watch the image of the
Wheaties athlete turning into a charcoal negative of itself. As black
smoke sent rivulets upward into the sky, we'd warm our hands and enjoy
On hot Summer days like this one, we'd walk away from
the fire -- leaving the only evidence of burning in the way the rising
heat rippled and pushed its distortions through the air above the pile.
Once or twice in my lifetime, we'd catch the adjoining field on fire.
One of those times somebody called the fire department.
the yard and above the sand pile -- a sand pile we used for fun and
Tonka Truck business, but dad put there to add sand to the mortar to
build his rock wall -- was a tire swing. One of my brothers threw a
weighted rope up into a horizontal branch of that huge walnut tree and
then secured it around one side of an old bald, used tire. We'd swing
high and we'd swing wide and just every now and then we'd swing around
and kick off the trunk of that walnut tree. And the walnut tree
had a HUGE bee hive in its hollow. HUGE. I know it was. We used to poke
sticks into it and then run -- sometimes making it all the way across
the yard -- to safety. Sometimes we didn't make it. Bees are fast. They
take offense at being poked. There were two cherry trees in
that front yard. They produced sour cherries (not that they tasted sour
-- it's the kind of cherry they were). I ate as many as the birds would
leave behind. On the other side of the house was a catalpa
tree. It was right out by Spring Mill Rd (Do you realize how close the
spelling of "Spring Mill is to "Millring"? :)
). The catalpa tree was a big one and its shadow was entirely covered
in square yards of wild day lilies. Adventurous and budding hoodlum
impersonators, we'd smoke the hollowed, spent stalks of the day lilies.
No, it didn't taste good. Yes it burned. Yes it was stupid. Was it the
stupidest thing we did back then? Don't ask. But the real glory
of the catalpa tree was a long-ago sawed off branch that left four or
five feet of horizontal, western saddle-shaped protrusion from the
trunk, just about 8 feet from the ground. A fella could spend hours
sitting in that saddle reading a book. Or so I imagine. The
sugar maple that grew closer to the house turned an impossibly brilliant
orange in the Autumn. It was an orange of such florescence on a rainy
day that I bet it could be seen through cloud cover from a satellite
miles above earth. I'm guessing that the moon navigated the night skies
by that tree. And in the Summer, if you had the bedroom in the
corner at the top of the stairs, you could enjoy itching all night as
tiny bugs that populated that maple would completely cover the window
screen. And the window screen kept those tiny bugs out of that bedroom
to much the same degree as, say, chain link fence might hold back a
fast-flowing river. When I was twelve Mom brought home from
Lumber Mart the very thing that changed the entire gravitational center
of that yard. She bought me a basketball goalpost. From then on that
driveway and that goalpost were the only thing that mattered in that
yard. Maybe in my universe. I had an AC/DC radio and I could
listen to WNAP for hours. And hours. And hours. I shot baskets. I
envisioned a car full of Indiana Pacers driving by, screeching tires,
backing up, pulling into the drive, and challenging me to 2 on 2 games
(I really only excelled at hoops when you reduced the number of players
). That never happened. I know, right? That's the first hoop I ever dunked anything (a tennis ball) on. The hoop was flawed. It had never been properly welded at the support,
so if you missed and hit the front rim, the ball was likely to spring
nearly as far in return as the distance from which it was shot. It was
like the ball hitting the end of a springy diving board. Up
driveway from the hoop....and back about 7 years in time.... was the
garage -- attached to the house by a breezeway. The garage was never
finished on the inside. It housed the freezer. And junk. Lots of junk.
The rafters had a few hundred (maybe?) bottomless galvanized garbage
cans that were meant to be buried in the ground and used as what we in
this day would call a compost cellar. It was supposed to rot away all
the garbage. It was one of Dad's marketing schemes. Dad, as far as I
know, never sold one. We didn't use one either (note my comment about
the burn pile ) On the last days of the school year, I would
come home through the breezeway door that faced Springmill Rd -- up the
brick steps where Jimmy tripped on a wire used to deliver bundles of
Indianapolis Star for us paper carriers. He bit all the way through his
lower lip (I think he still has the scar more than fifty years on). And as I entered the house from that direction, I'd be greeted by the
late spring, early summer smells of mom having opened up the house,
ironing on the Ironrite, and doing the first preparations for dinner
(which we had with almost unwavering consistency at 6:30 every night.
And mom worked full time. Let that sink in for a minute.) And
we'd sit together -- no TV, no radio -- just conversations, teasing,
arguments, silence, and simple food. But not until we said in unison: Oh Heavenly Father, who doth feed our bodies with daily food, feed Thou
our spirits with Thy heavenly grace that we might truly serve Thee, Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
I've seen him around town for a few years now. He can be seen most
mornings walking the streets around the edge of town and out into the
countryside. He's beating the tall grass and bushes by the roadsides,
looking for aluminum and scraps of metal to recycle.
The reason I
see him quite often is because the scrap metal yard where he cashes in
his finds happens to be 1/8 mile from my shop.
But what actually made me start noticing him is his partner. Ever by his side walks a small red Pomeranian tethered to his belt with about six feet of string.
The dog looks like a miniature chow-chow and I suspect that even
without the string, he wouldn't wander too far off from his pal. I'm
guessing the string is for the man's peace of mind -- working as he does
along busy roads.
One hot summer morning I stopped my van
alongside him to ask if he wanted some water for his little dog. He
mumbled a ‘thanks but no thanks’ as he reached into the pack behind him
to show me that he carries water for the dog.
Well, this morning
as I was riding my bike to work I passed him heading out to the scrap
metal yard. This time he was riding a bike. I'd never seen him with a
bike. And behind the bike he was towing a two-wheeled cart filled with
his cache to cash.
And in the front of that cart the fellow had
built up a little bench upon which sat the Pomeranian -- wind in his
ever smiling face, riding his chariot like he owned the road.
I smiled too. Most of the rest of the way to work.
Fast on the heels of the last review -- I logged onto my Etsy site tonight to the following review:
"I have been collecting functional pottery for thirty years and I
have never been as enamored with any piece as much as I am with this
one. It is stunning.
about it is exquisite and perfect; the shape, the fit of the lid, the
rich autumn colors of the glaze, the beautifully turned acorns and
lifelike leaf impressions. Just gorgeous! I can't believe you "threw"
the acorns on the wheel!
Thanks too for the surprise treats. My
mother is an "acorn nut," too, so I plan to give her the pin. I designed
a tile entry way for her home that is leaves and acorns because she
loves them so much. I am thrilled to be able to pass along a little of
I will be keeping an eye on your site. I'm already loving other items :) Thanks for creating and producing such fine work. What a gem this is!!!"
I get the nicest reviews on my Etsy page. I thought I ought to share this one, written by a faithful patron who has supported me for years now:
"There are no words to properly describe how utterly beautiful this piece
is. The colors, the swirls, the shape...everything gives off a feeling
of utter tranquility and perfection. It's like walking through a meadow
of irises as dawn breaks. Incredible work of art! As always, John,
you're the master."
(no, that's not "Wishin' and Hoppin'", though I'll bet you read it that way first, huh? :) )
You're on "Let's Make a Deal!" and you're facing the three numbered
doors. Monty Hall tells you that behind one of the doors is a million
dollars (you just heard "meelyun dollllllars" in Dr Evil's voice, didn't
...back to the story...
Monty tells you there's a million dollars behind one of the doors and
you get to pick one of the doors, but behind the other two doors are
mules. Much as you love mules, you pick door #1 in hopes of winning a
million dollars. But Monty's dealing doesn't end there.
Rather than first revealing what's behind door #1, Monty instead turns
to Carol Merrill and asks her to kindly reveal what's behind door #3. A mule. Carol Merrill walks the mule off stage to much audience laughter. Mules are inherently funny.
But the deal making isn't done. Monty next turns back to you and says,
"Tell you what I'm gonna do. I'll trade doors with you. If you want to,
you can give door #1 back to me, and I'll give you what's behind door
#2. If you stick with door #1, you are wishing to win a million dollars. If you take Monty up on the deal and trade for door #2, you are hoping to win a million dollars. And that's the difference between wishing and hoping. And don't let Dusty Springfield tell you otherwise.
He was showing me something on his computer monitor, so I happened to
be standing over his shoulder and to his left when he opened his top
desk drawer. In it I could see a whole stack of lottery tickets.
Hundreds of them. Maybe. Okay, maybe dozens. I don’t know. I didn’t
count them. But there were lots of them.
“What’s with the lottery tickets?” I asked.
“I like to buy them.” He answered.
“So, are those tickets winning tickets or losing tickets or what?” I prompted.
“I have no idea.” He said. “I just buy them and keep them in the drawer.”
“You mean you’ve never checked them out to see if they’re winners?” I continued.
“There’s really no point.” was his response.
“No point? What if one of them is a winner?”
“Well, if you’ve never checked them out, then how do you know there’s not a winner in there?”
“Odds.” He said. “The odds of winning are astronomical. The odds of
winning are about the same as being hit by lightning. I’ve not yet been
hit by lightning, nor a train (which occurs with just about the same
frequency), nor have I contracted a rare blood disorder, nor have I
defied the odds in any other way. Probability tells me that there is no
winner in that drawer.”
“So, then, why buy the tickets?”
“They allow me to dream.” Was his reply. “I like to dream about the things I would do if money were no object.”
“Can’t you dream without buying a lottery ticket?”
“That would be utterly futile. I’m a realist. Do you think I can
believe that money like that would just appear out of thin air?”
“So, you buy lottery tickets so you can dream?”
“And you don’t check them out because you’re a realist?”
I've had this North Carolina stoneware in the shop since last Autumn.
I bought it to use with my sunburst glaze, but it has the annoying
property -- fired cone 10 gas -- of creating only one or two blisters
per pot....each right in the very center of the most important visual
space of the entire piece. So I put the clay aside.
Meanwhile, this Spring I resurrected my working with porcelain and came up with a look I like.
Then one day I happened to be thinking porcelain but looking at my languishing stack of STARwhite clay. Hmmmm, says I.
If my dog, Breeze, drank black coffee I’d make sure my mugs fit his paws His dewclaw could wrap ‘round the thumb rest The rim wide enough for his jaws We’d take our coffee out on the back porch The red birds would sing us awake As we sat hip to hip on the swinging bench Everything rosy, everything jake
I might turn to him and ask “What do you think?” He won’t look. He might flick an ear. And though he has yet to utter a word I know he likes having me there
That’s just how things are with me and Breeze I’m a man of too many words And Breeze, the quiet but thoughtful type Just sitting, enjoying the birds
I read somewhere that dogs recognize profiles. The idea behind the
study was that if you ever wondered why dogs respond in predictable ways
to other dogs with pricked ears or a certain sweep of the tail, slope
of a back, or bulk, it’s because they recognize those general dog silhouettes. That’s how they seem to recognize their own breed. And that’s
how they recognize each other – though they’re as likely to take such
recognition cues from smell as they are from sight. My dogs have
always seemed to prove the rule. My Malamutes have always seemed to
recognize the outlines of dogs that appear similar to the dogs they
already know. Breeze seems inclined to think, for instance, upon
meeting Deacon (the Lab) that Deacon is okay because he appears much as his
friend, Jewel – a very similar looking leggy Lab.
And that’s also why my Malamutes have always seemed particularly alert
when they come across other Northern breed dogs – Huskies, Samoyeds, and
other Malamutes. When Breeze sees pricked up ears and a tail curled
over the back, he immediately seems to suspect “family”.
it was the other day as Dar was walking Breeze in a neighborhood they
don’t usually walk, Dar’s attention was caught by some movement off to
her left. In the back yard of a nearby house was a Malamute. And not
just any Malamute either, but a Malamute with a profile so similar to
our dear, departed Ariel’s profile that Dar's breath caught and she
stood there frozen. Her heart raced for the split second it took before
her brain could remind her heart that there was no hope. It couldn’t
(of course) be her beloved Ariel.
And then she looked down beside
her. There stood Breeze. Frozen in his tracks. Full recognition in
his eyes. And hope. His heart wasn’t getting the message of reason.
Such a hopeful optimist, bless him.
See that pie plate over there on the wheel? Yeah, I know. It doesn't look much like a pie plate.
I was throwing jars early this morning with the clay I'd brought back
to life with water and my pug mill. It was really lifeless and sloppy
while working on the jars. So I figured I'd make pie plates -- where
soft and sloppy would actually be to my advantage.
though. This third or fourth time through the pug mill and the magic
happened. As I was centering the first pie plate it dawned on me that
the clay had come to life. So I made a taller pie plate with a spout
and, you know, a place for a handle in back. So you can pour your pie.
Just over in the corner to the right If you look real close with a flashlight And a pile of old clay boxes rests upended Well, I found just what I need, sayin’ A thousand pounds of stoneware clay an’ Just like that, yeah, I was in business I was in business
Oh, oh, what a mess So rock hard, I should have guessed As box after heavy box I lugged it. Still I’m watering it down Pound after pound after too hard pound Just thanking the Lord for my pugmill For my pugmill
If you asked me what was my earliest
childhood memory, there might be two events vying for first. One would
be the birth of my baby brother, Jim. The second would be a visit to my
Uncle Irving's home in Upstate New York.
It's not that I
remember my Uncle Irving. I really don't. I was probably 4 years old
at the time of the visit. And Irving was actually my Dad's uncle -- an
old man by then, being the oldest of 3 brothers (Walter -- an WWI
invalid, and my grandfather, Elmer, being the other two).
have distinct memories of Irving's New York house. More precisely, I
remember his basement painting studio. Open rail stair case leading
down. Dark to the right. Lighted to the left with easel, workbench,
and paints. The smell of linseed oil and turpentine. Oh, the smells.
Canvases leaning low against the walls or laying flat on tables. A
dirty, clouded glass door at the end of the small room leading out to an
unkempt meadow. From the cool of the basement, I could see dragonflies
buzzing about on that hot summer day.
I don't know what Irving
did for a living. Whatever it was, it never stopped him from painting.
He was prolific. Many of his paintings still warm the walls of Bauman
family homes. The harbor scene -- dated 1911 -- is on my living room
The romantic me -- which is, admittedly, a too big part
of me -- has always been fascinated with painting. Fortunately, pottery
took me away from it. But I've dabbled around the edges of expression
with a brush and color. And that's what my newest explorations have
allowed me. Painted mugs.