Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Bowl For You

A Folktale with versions found in Rumania, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and Nepal

A unique retelling by Rocci Hildum

Source: Retold by Allison Cox

Copyright 1994

Healing Heart Project

There was a family of potters who worked hard to make a living. There was a grandfather, who had been a potter for a very long time. The grandfather had once been known as a very skilled craftsman who made the finest pots in the land. The grandfather had carried clay from the hillside, shaped pots, mixed glazes, and cut wood to keep the kiln hot. The grandfather taught his trade to his son and together they taught the daughter in law to shape the pots.

As the grandfather grew older he could no longer carry the heavy clay from the hillside. He was no longer strong enough to pump the pedal of his potter’s wheel. Grandfather was too old to cut and carry firewood for the kiln.

Grandfather started to spend his days in the workshop teaching his young granddaughter how to shape the pots and mix the glazes. Grandfather taught his granddaughter his craft. Grandfather held Granddaughter’s hands to teach her how to hold her hands and how to shape the pots. Grandfather taught Granddaughter how to pump the pedal of the potter’s wheel. Grandfather helped Granddaughter mix the glazes in shades of blues, reds and purples and greens and together they painted the pots and bowls with intricate designs.

And as they worked, Grandfather told stories and Granddaughter listened and shaped the clay. And gradually the stories started to shape the clay. And gradually the stories became a part of the pots and bowls and things that Granddaughter shaped.

So when Grandfather told a story about great sailing ships that set off across the seas to explore the world, Granddaughter shaped a pot, long on one side that was painted with bright stripes flaring like banners flying in the wind across the sides.

And when Grandfather told a story about a tiny bird building a nest in the spring, Granddaughter shaped a delicate bowl the beautiful blue color of robin eggs.

The more Grandfather told stories, the more Granddaughter listened. The more Grandaughter listened to Grandfather’s stories, the more the stories shaped the pots. The more that the stories became a part of the pots and bowls that Granddaughter shaped, the more popular they became. People admired the things made by Granddaughter. They could see and hear and feel the stories in the clay. Many people wanted to buy the things made by the granddaughter, even more than those made by her parents.

Gradually Grandfather could no longer hold his hands steady to help shape the clay. Grandfather’s hands were not steady enough to mix glazes or paint pots and bowls.

Grandfather felt so strange sitting idle in the shop where he had worked so hard for so many years. Grandfather began to tell his son and daughter-in-law how to improve the shape of their pots, or how to make the kiln burn hotter or where to dig for the best clay. Grandfather made suggestions of how they should mix the glazes and what colors to paint the things that they made. And Grandfather told his stories.

“Father,” said his son, “You have taught me well how to be a potter and I have been doing it for these many years. Together we taught my wife, your daughter-in-law, to be a potter and together we have been potters for these many years. You do not need to continue to teach me as if I was a child.”

“Wouldn’t you be more comfortable sitting in the house, by the fire, instead of spending your days in this cold, damp shop?” asked the daughter-in-law. “Besides, you keep knocking over the pots and bowls with your cane. We cannot afford to lose our work.”

So Grandfather started to spend his days in the house while the rest of the family worked in the shop. It was lonely in the house during the day.

In the evenings, when the family returned to the house, Grandfather was eager to know how their work was going. Grandfather asked his daughter-in-law, “Are the pots and bowls selling well?”

Grandfather was disappointed to learn that the family was not selling as many pots and bowls as they had been.

 “Where are you digging the clay, my son? Are you keeping the kiln hot enough? How are you mixing the glazes?”

The son and daughter-in-law would respond, “Stop badgering us with your questions. You have worked hard and you deserve to rest. You do not need to worry about the pottery any more.”

But the old man couldn't stop asking about the pottery. Making pots with his family had been his whole life and so every evening when they sat down to dinner he would question them more. One night, he asked, again, for the third time that week,

"Are you sure you're digging the right kind of clay. You're not letting that clay dry out too much before you use it are you? Are the colors bright enough?"

The son exchanged looks with his wife and said,

"I wish you paid as much attention to your eating as you do to telling us what we do wrong. Look at yourself. You have half of your meal spilled down your shirt. It's disgusting."

Grandfather looked down at his shirt. His hands shook so much any more that he often spilled his meals on his clothes.

"I can't even get the stains out of your shirts or the tablecloth anymore when I do the wash," added his daughter-in-law.

Grandfather looked at his shirt and at the table. Indeed, Grandfather was embarrassed and ashamed to see that his clothes and the tablecloth were stained from the food that he had dropped. Grandfather looked at the faces of his son and daughter-in-law and they could see his shame. Grandfather slowly rose from the table and with his cane in one hand and his bowl in the other, tottered over to his chair in the corner by the fireplace. Grandfather sat there to finish his meal alone. Grandfather balanced his bowl and spoon with one shaky hand and kept his other hand on his cane to balance himself.

Granddaughter got up to join Grandfather.

"You sit back down and finish your food right here at the table. I wish you were as concerned about your work," her father told her angrily. "We haven't sold one of your pots in a long time. You're just not working as hard as you used to."

The girl looked up at her father and said,

"To shape and paint beautiful pots, I need Grandfathers' beautiful stories."

“You need to concentrate on your work and stop being distracted by listening to those foolish stories,” said her father.

From that night on, grandfather continued to eat his meals in the corner in his chair. He would balance his bowl with one hand and spoon his food with the other. Since his hands shook, he would sometimes loose his grip on the bowl and his dinner would drop to the floor, the bowl crashing to pieces.

The daughter-in-law became angry, " I can't keep making bowls just so you can break them.” Grandfather sat in his chair with tears in his eyes.

A few nights later, grandfather was telling Granddaughter a story, sitting together in his corner, when the girl's mother walked up to them with a wooden bowl in her hand.

"Here, I bought this at the market today for you. Maybe now you won't break your dinner bowl anymore."

Grandfather felt the shame and embarrassment rise in him again and he just sat. Granddaughter took the bowl from her mother and looked at it, turning it over and over in her hands.

"Grandfather, may I borrow this? " she asked.

Grandfather shrugged sadly and the girl set off to the pottery shop.

In a little while, Granddaughter returned with a block of wood and a knife and started to carve the piece of wood, seated on the floor in Grandfather’s corner.

“Tell me a story, Grandfather.”

Grandfather started to tell a sad story.

Granddaughter carved the block of wood, pausing every once in a while and comparing the block of wood to Grandfather's bowl. And as Grandfather told the story, Granddaughter shaped the block of wood and listened to Grandfather’s story. And as Grandfather told the sad story, the story started to shape the block of wood, the story started to become part of the wood.

The girl's parents were setting the table with the evening meal. Her father came over to see what his daughter was working on.

"What's this? Have you given up on pottery altogether and decided to take up woodworking?" her father joked.

"Oh no, Father, but I thought I'd better learn how to shape a wooden bowl, " the girl answered, keeping her eyes on her whittling. "One day you and mother will be old and your hands will be unsteady, and you will need wooden bowls too.”

The husband and wife looked at their daughter in shocked silence and then they turned to see tears in each others’ eyes. This time, it was their turn to shake, as they slowly sank to their knees and begged Grandfather to forgive them.

From that day Grandfather ate his meals at the table with the family, from a pottery bowl made by his family.

Every day Grandfather joined his family in the pottery shop again. The old man would spend his days in the shop, sometimes dozing in a chair, but usually telling stories.

And while Grandfather told stories, Granddaughter, and the son and the daughter-in-law would listen and they would shape the pots. And the stories began to shape the clay, the stories became a part of the clay.

So when Grandfather told a story about a great dragon with shining green wings, the daughter-in-law listened and shaped a deep shining green bowl with handles that stretched wide.

And when Grandfather told a story about an enchanted princess with long flowing hair and eyes that sparkled, his son would shape a long slender vase that sparkled in the sunlight.

The pots and bowls began to sell well again. The family lived on together in this way for many more years, not always in harmony, but certainly with more caring than before.

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