Chub’s Uncle Archie used to tell about the country girl who was propositioned
on the streets of New York. “Oh, no!” she said, “Only for family and a few
close friends but never for money.” That’s the answer I gave to a woman who
wanted me to make tiles for a cabinet top in her new home: “... never for
I never intended to make another tile after making more than a hundred for our
daughter’s front entrance and hearth. I rolled, measured and cut strips of
clay somewhat larger than my pattern and moved them to boards for slow drying.
When the strips were “leather hard” I cut tiles to the exact size needed.
Then began the “idiot work” -- endlessly turning them over and moving them
to dry boards -- and drying boards in the sun.
However, Mallory Mayse didn’t give up. She had her heart set on handmade tiles
and she offered to help make them. I liked this vivacious woman with a happy
outlook on life. “OK,” I said. We’ll do them in spite of my policy of
“never for money.” She was a delightful conversationalist and we made the
monotonous chore bearable by chatting while we worked. One day Susie talked
lovingly about her grandparents’ cottage on a lake in Michigan. “Mal and I
spent our honeymoon there, and now our girls have happy childhood memories of
the place,” she said.
I told her that I once spent two weeks at a lake cottage in Michigan with a
school chum’s family. She asked where that was and I said, “Somewhere near
“You’re kidding!” Susie said, “Our cottage is on a lake near Coldwater,
Morrison lake.” Several MU professors who taught in summer school owned
cottages where their wives took the children to escape Missouri’s heat. I
said, “Betsy’s father was going to drive up for a short vacation and to close
the cottage for winter. When Professor Kempster called...”
“Kempster!” Susie screamed. “Kempsters sold that cottage to my
grandparents!” Tile drying stopped while we talked about that beautiful spot
in this small world. Much later she told me how sad they all were; they were
having to part with the Morrison Lake property. Each person would choose a
memento, something to remember their happy times there. “One of our girls
chose an old white table that was in the root cellar there, covered with years
of mold.” Somehow it reminded her of special people and events.
“If there were just some way to keep a part of it -- the lake, I mean, and
the beach...” Susie said plaintively. I consoled her, saying, “You could
bring some sand. I’ll mix it with Missouri clay and make something for you.”
Susie’s dark eyes danced. “And lake water! Could you use that, too?” Yes.
“That would tie Michigan and Missouri together,” she said, somewhat
She brought two liters of Morrison Lake water and enough sand that we could
sieve out the larger grains. That special clay is in my workshop, aged and
ready to be made into pitchers. They’ll remind the Mayse girls of wonderful
times at their grandparents’ cottage on the lake near Coldwater.
Recently Mal Mayse decided to clean up the old table. Written on the
underneath side were the words “for KEMPSTER.” When I make the pitchers I’ll
save some Michigan/Missouri clay, enough to make a tile: “In memory of
Professor and Mrs. Harry L. Kempster and ‘Betsy,’ Morrison Lake, near
That will remind me that at age 14 we stood around that very same old table
and drank Postum with our peanut butter sandwiches.