I want to be a river
not a reservoir
The flow of a generous alchemy of gifts
received and given
A reservoir saves
for the day when
nothing is given
Stores up against want
Leaves no room
for the new
But there is no need
to dam the flow
to fear the dry spell
Grace is given afresh
wrapped in moments
large and small
Learning to Drive
On Sunday afternoons, we’d head to an empty parking lot. I would get behind the wheel, my Dad co-pilot in the passenger seat. He was very calm and I was very comfortable floating around the empty lot, getting familiar with the way the steering worked and the touch on the brakes. Easy.
Mr. McHenry couldn’t have been more different. He was the Driver’s Training instructor at the nearby public high school who had a reputation for being a drill sergeant. He wanted to completely eradicate any notion we had the Driver’s Training would be easy. He could call on you for the answer to the speed limit on rural roads without a posted sign, and you’d better know it. He was also known for being very hard on girls, we speculated that he had an unspoken conviction that women shouldn’t drive.
In addition to class, we had field practice. The school had several cars and a closed-off area we could drive in, complete with streets, intersections, a stop light, and parking cones. All of us took turns driving with Mr. McHenry until he approved us to drive a car on our own. My hands gripped the wheel, while his foot hovered over the second set of brakes and he barked instructions – turn left, stop, park – and I tried to remember turn signal, check mirrors, and the worst – how to parallel park. My driving with Dad paid off. As we returned to the garage after my driving trial, Mr. McHenry said, “Well, I’m surprised but you passed and next week you can drive your own car”.
Nex week I was assigned car #7. I started down the little grid of streets trying to remember all the rules. The cardinal rule was never pass another car. Mr. McHenry had a bull horn and would call out if he saw anyone making a mistake. I stopped at the stop light, waited for the green and turned right. To my horror I saw another student had parallel-parked further down the street. I was trapped. It only took a second for Mr. McHenry’s booming voice over the bullhorn, “Car #7 return to the garage”. I was mortified. I sat out the rest of the class time but was able to get my own car the next week. To Mr. McHenry’s barely disguised chagrin, all the girls in the class passed and were soon out on the roads on our own.
I never met Howard Wilder. We won one of his raku pots – an urn-shaped ochre pot with a lid and black veins – at a raffle at a small gallery we like. I found the perfect place for it on our mantel, in an arrangement that finally felt just right. A tall candlestick on the right with Howard’s pot next to it, the photo of a swirl of stars in the center, and a few smaller pots on the left. One night as we were watching TV, the candle on the tall stand fell and knocked Howard’s pot to the floor. We were stunned – the candle had been on that stand for years and nothing had happened that would have caused its fall.
Howard’s pot was in several pieces. As I puzzled the pieces back together, a few small pieces were missing. We looked under furniture, behind the fireplace screen, everywhere, but they were gone. Another mystery.
When we went back to the gallery to see about a replacement, the owner told us that Howard died a few weeks ago. He was a retired neurosurgeon in his nineties who had a passion for pottery, especially Native American pots. After he retired, he had studied in the Southwest with Native American potters and their influence is clear in his work. He had driven up to the gallery several years ago and asked if they’d be interested in showing his pots, he had several in his trunk. They agreed when they saw the quality of his work.
I felt a shiver. Had Howard visited us? Native Americans believe that the person’s pots should be buried with them. What was this strange experience telling me? I don’t know the answer. I glued the pieces back together leaving the holes open where the pieces are missing. From what little I know of Howard, he was a man who followed his bliss to create beauty. The broken pot is back on our mantel, beautiful even in its brokenness, a silent witness to mystery.
Karen Hurley Kuchar is fascinated with the power of words to connect, amuse, and open us to nature and each other. She leads the Wisdom Writing Circle, and is honored to be among the gifted storytellers in the circle.