Last year, Oscar wanted to take a pottery class and I found one for him at the Painted Pot in Cobble Hill. Eli the elder opted out, staying home to do homework and sneak chocolate chips.
Oscar showed some early frustration, trying a plate one week (“It’s really hard,” he’d said) and then switching to an easier bowl shape the next. I encouraged him to keep at the plate. “You can do it…” was all I said, even though I had no idea really if it was possible, having never tried.
The result of Oscar’s efforts came home in a purple bag filled with paper-wrapped blobs that he opened as if each was a surprise gift. He favored smiley faces and happy yellows painted on top of blues and greys. There was a cool salt holder and a smiley face mug and a few little plates. The pieces were fun and rough-hewn, just like their maker, and I put them to use or on display. We picked up a second pottery set in the fall, and it was far smoother and in muted tones. It was good, showed more skill, but for some reason I put it away in a cabinet.
This year, Eli joined Oscar at the pottery class, and Oscar was pleased to be the one in the know.
“It’s kinda hard at first,” the younger brother warned.
I was nervous. Putting the boys in the same activities had worked out in the past, with Oscar following his big brother into baseball and chess, but I wasn’t sure how the reverse might work. Would Eli resent his younger brother being well-versed in something he was not, and if that resentment might come out in a stream of defensive name-calling as it is wont to do? I took a deep breath and crossed my fingers.
“So?” I said when they climbed in to the car after their first day together, now two boys covered in sludge. “How was it?”
Eli shrugged and stared straight ahead.
“Ok,” he said.
I looked at him in profile. It was the same face I saw when he struck out in baseball, disappointed but pretending it was fine. It was clear my self-proclaimed perfectionist had been humbled.
“It gets easier, I told you,” Oscar said brightly from the back. “I remember my first time…”
There were no mean comments, no venom flung from Eli’s tongue. He didn’t know something that his brother did, but that was okay. He could handle it.
In the weeks since, the boys have been able to share their opinions on the difficulties of pottery, the impossibility of centering the piece on the wheel, “Even for adults!”
David had called a few weeks after we’d picked up Oscar’s final bag of pottery to ask if we’d mistakenly received things that weren’t ours. I recalled Oscar saying there was a fish on one bowl that he hadn’t remembered putting there. Indeed, those pots were made by another “Oscar.”
“I thought they were kind of smoother than mine,” Osc said with a shrug as he identified the ones he hadn’t done. When we received the purple bag again, Oscar unwrapped each piece. There again were the bright hues, the rough-hewn finishes, the smiles.
“Mine are a lot rougher,” he said, hunching down and lowering his head.
“I like them,” I said, “and David said he was surprised you couldn’t tell the others weren’t yours, since he said yours are ‘very distinctive.’ ”
“Yeah,” Osc said, his shoulders lifting slightly. “Those other ones were cool, really smooth and stuff, but mine…”
“Yours are great, they’re very cool,” I said. “To be honest, those others were kinda too perfect.”
Then I remembered.
“Actually, I put them in the cabinet, I didn’t even display them.”
Eli grabbed a cool mug from Oscar’s latest collection.
“I love this, can I have it?” he said.
Oscar smiled and blushed slightly.
“Sure, I guess,” he said.
I smiled. Pottery is worth every penny.
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