When I was nineteen, I went through the worst depression I’ve ever experienced. It was the summer before my freshman year in college. I was living with my dad and brother in dad’s little saltbox house on Westport Island, Maine. This is where my grandparents, Bill and Gene Bonyun, had settled our little branch of the Bonyun family, on a coastal saltwater farm. Gene, or Nonie as I called her, died when I was little. My grandfather, Pop-Pops, was one of the most influential people in my life, kind and dear, vibrantly youthful into old age.
That summer, when I wasn’t laid up in bed, I was across the woods at Thomas Farm, drinking tea with Pops. He knew me well, and he saw how desperately sick I was. He arranged for his friend Paul Lynn, a potter, to bring an extra pottery wheel up to Westport for me. They put it in the boat house, got me all set up with pickle buckets and tools and old wooden shelves for my work. I dug clay from the banks of the cove and spent the rest of that summer sitting at my wheel, throwing pots and cups and vases, with the old boat house doors open to Thomas Cove and Knubble Bay beyond, the smell of the sea and mud flats blending with the smell of pickles, the sound of wind and ravens and gulls filling my head.
As you might imagine, in that setting, I was healed. The depression melted quietly and completely away. By the end of the summer I packed up my things and left, ready for what came next, my spirit renewed. I left all my clay pots on the shelves, raw and un-fired, there in the boat house.
They stayed there for twenty-one years. Years after my dear grandfather had gone on, I found myself standing in the dim light of the boat house, on a cloudy day, gazing at the shelves full of my old pots. Many were broken, a few missing, but there were some that were still whole. Old and dusty, but alive, still raw and un-fired, ready for what came next.
I took them home and, with the help of a potter friend, glazed and fired them. I got them back today. Four pieces, finished. Tonight, I took one of the pieces, a wide round tea cup, poured in hot water, dropped in a bag of Sleepytime, added cream and honey, and enjoyed a first cup of tea from this cup made by my younger hands. I’m back with my Pops, sitting at the table holding warm mugs, and I can see his smile again, and that eternal twinkle in his kind, kind eyes. He’s telling me again that beautiful things should be used, not set up on a shelf to gather dust. Like this good Westport clay.