I grew up in this little beach town. When you think of North Carolina, most people don’t think about islands, but that that’s where we lived -- Emerald Isle, North Carolina. Tourist flocked there every summer. The locals were mostly fishermen or cashiers or waitresses at all-you-can-eat buffets. But my father was a potter. He didn’t leave the trailer most days. He didn’t have to. The UPS man dropped off boxes of clay. My dad threw this clay in the work studio. Of course he didn’t really throw the clay, but that’s how he said he made the cups and bowls.
There was two sheds in the yard. One for tools, the other for the kiln. The kiln looked like a brick igloo with afterburners. They fired the clay so folks at craft shows could buy it. Dad kept throwing pottery until it filled the studio. A big show made the house go buzzz. You know the feeling you get the closer to Christmas? Anyway, he’d pace around before a firing, filling the kiln with all the uncooked pottery. One time the kiln blew up, but it didn’t really blow up like you think. The pottery just looked retarded. Mom talked about the poorhouse.
The kiln rumbled low and steady in the night. Outside, the shed is a big jack-o-lantern, glowing tangerine between the planks. Inside, my father was a maestro, tuning pyrotechnic gauges, stoking the dials of that thousand-degree symphony. His face look orange like an Oompa Loompa, except he got a moustache that curls up. My dad is five foot nine, weighs a hundred and forty pounds. But his tan Woolrich vest makes him look heavier.
One time a police come by, asked if dad was hiding a side entrance to Hell in there. Our across-the-street neighbors, a family of fat morticians, never batted an eyelash, but a mainlander renting a trailer up the road expressed his concerns.
“That thing runs on gas? If that thing explodes…” the man trailed off, his eyes fixed toward the kiln.
“Well,” said my dad. “It hasn’t happened yet.”
“The whole goddamn neighborhood would BLOW!”
“Blow?” my dad echoed, as if that was the last thing a gas-fueled contraption would do. “That’s not gonna happen.”
The man didn‘t argue. The struggle in his face said it all:
Gas oven + Hippie Potter = Boom.
The man reminded me of a house cat. Maybe he paced all night, downing wine coolers with a shaky hand, peering through the blinds every five minutes to the glowing shack that, given half a chance, would level the entire neighborhood. Inland folks had apocalyptic scenarios: Shark attacks, hurricanes, exploding kilns. I could jump off the roof with an umbrella, or lean too far back in my chair if I wanted to.
Dad said “just don’t do it at your grandmother’s.”