Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Dad and some neighbors used mule teams, pu...

Dad and some neighbors used mule teams, pulling hand operated scrapers, to dig a basement for the Aladdin Ready Cut home that was being shipped on the Wabash to our farm near Columbia. That was in 1922. Our home had burned and we were living in a tent that summer while the home would be erected. The mules -- and the men -- were worn out by the end of each day because the scrapers had to cut into some very tough, white clay. They dumped the clay on what would be our front lawn!

Dad’s boots kept collecting clay and he’d cuss a streak and stop work to pry it off his boots. After the house was erected and Mom wanted to set out iris bulbs and sow grass seed, Dad had to haul in soil so they could grow.

Twenty years later I took my Christian College recreation students out near there to a roadside clay deposit. “Dig yourself about a cup full,” I said. “Dry it, crush it, moisten it and make something to show the class.” This was the same white clay, but I had learned that, when thoroughly dry, it would absorb water and could be formed into interesting shapes without adding any other material. The students surprised me. One even made a little teapot with a fitted lid!

In retirement I remembered those class projects and began to dig at the same spot for my own amusement. I’ve done that for 25 years. Occasionally at some social event I discover a thin line of white clay around the edges of my fingernails!

We usually think of dishes or bricks when we think of things made of clay. Who realizes that stoneware clay is mixed with graphite to make pencil “lead?” It’s used in making cosmetics, slick paper, plaster, floor tile, cardboard boxes and doll heads. Clay helps make our highways, schools, hospitals and homes. It’s in enamel paint, children’s crayons, lipstick and much more.

Clay is important in industries and space exploration, but perhaps it’s greater contribution is in the production of food. Plants, like people, require food and water. The clay hard pan beneath the soil of gardens and fields, helps moisture and fertilizer stay within reach of roots. And it’s clay that impounds water in lakes and ponds. Neither sand, gravel nor loam can do that job. Cattle, hogs and other farm animals depend on impounded water to thrive and the pond or lake also provides water for irrigation. Clay is an important ingredient in the cement that creates huge dams and power plants and the resulting reservoirs in which we swim, fish, ski, sail and enjoy other forms of recreation.

It’s high time we celebrated clay!

Big plans are in the works to do just that. Mexico, Mo., is planning Clay Day-USA, for the third weekend in June. Because there are nine fire brick refractories in the area, Mexico is known as the fire brick capital of the world and they intend to deal with “all of the known uses of clay” at that event. Some participants will sell their work and prizes will be given. The grand prize will be a trip to Shigaraki, Japan.

Clay Day-USA was suggested by John Tsikalas, a Mexico potter known for making delicate vases. The celebration includes kiln building, making fire bricks, hands-on activities for children and adults and demonstrations by potters from this country, Europe and Japan.

For further information and entry blanks, call Lori Pratt, Arts Coordinator, at (573) 581-2100 or write to Clay Day-USA, 300 N. Coal, Mexico, Mo., 65265.

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