Monday, January 09, 2006

Random Objects

My First Blog.

It's gray and snowing outside, so I'm going to post random things from my laptop.

This is from a series of stories about a year in the life of my nine-year-old daughter. They are fiction, and they tickle me, so I thought I'd share some of them. Look for a new one every Monday (ish).

Forever Ashtray

The child is making something out of clay. It has gone from a snake, coiled into a circle about the size of a coffee cup, to a great mound of lumps and knobs and coils. It does not resemble any object in my known universe, but the child is proceeding with its construction very intently.

I know better than to ask what it is. Either this will eventually become obvious, or the question will make her feel bad that it isn’t obvious. Or she will think I am some sort of Philistine who can’t really appreciate art. In any case, I don’t ask.

She is working with a new kind of clay that she found at the art store. There is a little crafts and hobbies shop within walking distance from Lonny-with-a-Y’s house, and the child has a bit of money stashed away from a birthday check from my father.

He adores her, but is completely baffled about what a nine-year-old girl child might want or need. Until last year, he’d just send me a check with a card he’d signed, and I’d go buy the giant Lego set or whatever the major obsession of the season was.

But this Christmas he made out a check in her name and sent it in an envelope addressed just to her. She was thrilled. We agreed that she could spend it on anything she wanted, as long as it wasn’t dangerous, illegal, or so gross that I’d be uncomfortable having it in the house.

The Christmas money, as far as I can tell, has been dribbling away for the past month, quarter by quarter by occasional dollar, for small impulse purchases. Like this new clay.

It’s not “clay” clay, she explains to me while she works. And it’s not plasticine. which both of us agree is really pretty lame and useless. And it’s not Fimo, which comes in so many cool colors that you don’t have to paint it, but is very expensive.

This is some new kind of clay, a “modeling compound,” from Crayola. It comes in a soothing, familiar, nostalgia-invoking dark green and yellow box. The stuff itself is dun-colored. What’s cool about it, she says, is that it stays soft and clay-like even if you forget and leave it out overnight.

Unlike real clay that has to be tightly cocooned with Saran Wrap or sealed into Tupperware--or Play-Doh, which eventually dries out no matter what you do--this stuff stays pliable until you dunk it in cold water. It doesn’t get hard instantly. Not like one drop of water and you’re stuck with what you’ve got. You just put it in a bowl and leave it for a couple of hours and then it’s hard.

The way the child’s creation is growing, we will have to use a bucket.

“What happens after it hardens?” I ask.

She shrugs. “You can paint it. You can do just about anything with it, and it’ll stay that way forever. Like that ashtray thing you made for Grandpa.”

She’s impressed with the concept of permanence. When you’re nine, few things have been around for very long.

The summer before last we went back to the midwest for a week to visit my father, and I discovered that the ashtray he uses for his pipe ashes and cinders is one I made when I was about the child’s age. I told her this, and she looked at me as if I was seriously deluded. How could something that old still exist?

I turned the ashtray over and showed her my name, my first name, scratched deeply into the clay in big, shaky capital letters, along with the words ROOM 102.

“Is that you?”

I nodded and she shook her head in disbelief. She could not imagine me as a small child, as her peer, any more than, as a child, I could imagine that my own mother had ever been nine.

I’d seen pictures of my mother’s childhood, but they was so overlaid with who she was in my reality that the best I could do was imagine a very small woman who wore her hair in sausage curls but also drank scotch on the rocks when the sun was “over the yardarm.”

“Well, I guess Grandpa liked it,” the child said. She put the ashtray back on the coffee table and stared at it skeptically. It is not an attractive object. It is a kiva of clay, a roundish flat disk topped with a good three inches of coiled snakes. The snakes are not all the same width, and there are lumpy seams where I tried to mend breaks, hoping the repairs would be invisible. They aren’t. The glaze is an odd color--blue-green with an underlayer of sickly yellow, as if the southwest was getting just a little nauseous.

I have no memory of bringing it home from school. Was it a gift? Mother’s Day? Father’s Day? Both my parents smoked--Dad had his pipe and Mom a ubiquitous pack of Salems. Was it ooh-ed and aah-ed over? Or was it a polite thank-you and then onto the back of one cluttered counter or another, floating around that old house for 35 years, until my father noticed it and found it a convenient place to tap his ashes?

I couldn’t remember anything about its past, but I was tempted to tell him that I was touched that he’s still using it. It’s kind of a warm fuzzy feeling that I don’t associate with much of my childhood. But I was afraid to burst the bubble, afraid I’d discover that my father really had no idea which one of “you girls” made it, me or one of my sisters.

Back in our own kitchen, the child has added a small row of pea-sized balls to the perimeter of her creation, rolling each tiny piece of clay in the palm of her hand until it achieves roundness.

I’m curious to know if she’ll tell me about this “forever” sculpture when she’s done. She may be making it just for herself, or for a project that has nothing to do with me. But I suspect that at some point in the future, I will become its curator, and it would be nice to have a clue about what it is.

copyright ©2006 - Ellen Klages


At 3:44 PM, Blogger Madeleine Robins said...

Welcome to the Blogverse!


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