A special guest blog by my sister, Melinda Jenkins.
For several years, my family and I have watched dementia take little chunks of my mom’s memory away, slowly, piece by piece. After my parents moved off the mountain in Highlands to Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville, the disease seemed to escalate in the most difficult way. We were losing Mom more quickly, but yet she is still here. Summer of 2020 we were faced with helping Dad make the most difficult decision regarding Mom’s care we have ever faced. Her memory was declining, but just as concerning, her physical abilities were on the decline as well; to the point that safety in their apartment was a huge concern. Dad is a strong and stoic man, but even with round the clock caregivers assisting, the demands were becoming too much. So, we moved Mom to the memory unit at LVE in the skilled nursing facility section. One of the hardest days of our lives…EVER, but the necessary and right decision. Since then, we all find ourselves reminiscing about our beautiful life with Mom.
Here is one such story:
When we were little girls, my mom, sister, and I would “go gallivanting” in the mountains of Northeast Georgia. Gallivanting is a southern term meaning to go around from one place to another in pursuit of entertainment. We would ride all over the mountains stopping at art stores, antique shops, and such. We would load up in the station wagon. I would sit in the ‘way back.’ You know, the third-row seat that faced backwards, with no seatbelts? That was my place. No matter who came along, family friends or my grandmother and Aunt Betty, I got to sit in the way back. I had my coloring books, crayons, and a few Barbie dolls with all the accessories back there. I can still smell the vinyl carrying case and see the tiny pink coat hangers for Barbie’s clothes as well as the little, tiny plastic high heel shoes. These items were brought to keep me occupied for our all-day-long excursions.
Many times, we would have a picnic with us and stop at a beautiful location for lunch. My sister, 3 years older, enjoyed the all the shops. I believe these excursions led her to appreciate family history, by examining all the old treasures and listening to the strong women of our family describe the usefulness of each item. I, on the other hand, found my toys and coloring books much more interesting. Often, I was hot and complaining as young children do, with the echo of “How much longer?” ringing out from the way back and seemingly falling on deaf ears.
As much as I wanted to avoid gallivanting, I do remember this one place on the river. It had a working grist mill with a small waterfall actually IN the building which captivated my attention. The store owner provided fish food to throw off the deck to feed the monstrous trout in the stream below. It was shaded and cool on that deck. There were rocking chairs. It was the one shop that had a place for me. I rocked and fed the fish while everyone else browsed the rows of beautiful pottery. My sister tells me inside the shop there were potters working on a wheel, throwing pots, which mesmerized her. Maybe that’s why it was one of Mom’s favorite places…the girls were occupied so she could shop!
I remember the picnic tables near the parking lot. We had some good homemade lunches in the shade of a tree at those picnic tables. I really don’t recall much about what was in the shop, but I have vivid memories of the setting; cool air, soothing noise of rushing water, and green trees with the leaves rustling in the gentle mountain breeze.
As mom’s battle with dementia has progressed, Michelle and I have gone into nostalgia mode from time to time. One day a few years ago, I asked if Michelle remembered where Martha the Potter was located. I had always found it interesting that my mom’s name was in the shop name. She really loved this shop, and in my young mind, I believed that part of the reason she found it special was because her name was part of its history. I mean, how fun to be out gallivanting and stumble on a pottery store that has your name in the title, right? Michelle asked me to repeat the question. I did, but as I described the location, in great detail, she could not help but laugh. She informed me with a big smile that it is called Mark of the Potter. Literally, my whole life I had the name wrong! I was a little disappointed. Martha the Potter will always seem like a perfect name for this shop to me.
Fast forward to Fall of 2021, Michelle and I went gallivanting again, this time looking at fall leaves on the hunt for a site for a Georgia reception for Hannah and Jimmy in Fall 2022. I asked Michelle if we were near the pottery shop on the river from our childhood. She said, “Yes, Mark of the Potter is just down this road.’ Off we went. Funny thing is, my ears and brain still heard the phrase, “Martha the Potter.” As we arrived, all the sights and sounds came flooding back again, just as I remembered. Well, except that the sign clearly said, “Mark of the Potter -an interesting shop of contemporary artists.” Despite all the gallivanting we have done with Mom over the years, I can honestly say that no other shop captivates me like this one.
Mark of the Potter. Can anyone else, when saying that name aloud, understand how a child’s ear might hear “Martha the Potter”? After this visit to my childhood memory, I began to think that learning to throw pottery was something I wanted to try.
As we continue the dementia journey with Mom and Dad, Michelle and I decided to work on self-care by adding some creativity to our lives. We opted to learn pottery, since it was one of Mom’s favorite crafts. Though she never created pottery herself, she certainly had an appreciation of it. Since completing a course, I have begun making lots of pottery and decided I needed a stamp. I had one made that said ‘Martha the Potter-clay design by Melinda.’ I have started stamping all my pieces with this mark. It occurred to Michelle that she could also have a stamp made with ‘Martha the Potter- clay design by Michelle.’ Here are Michelle’s words on the topic.
“I could also have a stamp made with ‘Martha the Potter- clay design by Michelle.’ And our nieces, who have also taken up pottery, could use the same stamp design as well. A mark. A stamp. A lineage of strong women, all shaped by Martha, the potter. Who never touched clay, but who shaped all of our lives. We made our own design choices, our own colors, our own shapes, but she helped us to become vessels who pour out to others. She prayed us through some tough places, trusting that the Creator…the Master Potter… would see us through. She listened and tried to understand each of us and she shared her wisdom. All of what she did helped to center us and shape us into who we are today. What better name for a group of pottery designers than Martha the Potter.”
I have never thought of myself as creative, but I do know that I am a kinesthetic learner… so making things with my hands out of clay just might be my craft. I needed a head start in learning the basics, so I found a course called Clay 101 and began the journey of discovering my inner artist, a potter. Add the book, The Artist Way- A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity by Julia Cameron and I am now, what I would call, a new artist recovering from a lifetime of assumption. I assumed that I had no creative tendencies. I am a Doctoral prepared Nurse Practitioner who embraces the scientific method of research. I follow medical guidelines and develop detailed processes to help diagnose and treat medical ailments. I am practical and logical. I have always believed that these characteristics are the opposite of creative. Through this journey, I have learned that my assumption is not true.
I am beginning to see a whole new world of creativity from within. A gift from the Creator that I have not explored, until now. I am a novice, a true beginner on a creative journey, inspired by my mom, Martha the Potter and her love for artisan pottery. Who knew? Me, Melinda, a potter? —Better late than never!
Martha the Potter clay design by Melinda. Martha the Potter clay design by Michelle. Such a special name for our creative journey because we have been marked by Martha the Potter.
We recently spent several days sorting things at Dad’s apartment. He is downsizing again. This time, moving to a slightly smaller apartment on the first floor. This will be a good move, making it easier to walk Oreo (the dog) and a shorter distance to get to where mom resides. Michelle and I took him gallivanting in the mountains after a long, emotional morning of sorting through many of Mom’s treasures. I think his favorite stop was “Martha the Potter.” I know it was mine!