Clay Ashtrays & The Wizard of Oz

Clay Ashtrays & The Wizard of Oz

I’m told I was a stubborn little child, but I turned radical at four. Because of a clay ashtray and The Wizard of Oz.

Pre-war Ann Arbor. My father is doing a Post-doc. My mother is bored. I am doing a Pre-school. One day we are to make clay ashtrays for our mother. The teacher’s model is a clumsy round lump with a rumpled rim full of thumbprints.

I’d seen a better ashtray in Life magazine, a square little house, hollow inside. The lit cigarette rested on the threshold of the open front door, and the smoke exited from the hollow chimney on the roof.

I took my lump of clay and rolled it flat, sliced it into slabs and made the walls and roof stick together by licking their edges.

The hollow chimney was harder, and I had only a little clay left, so I rolled it around a pencil stub which I’d wetted in my mouth. I’d just licked the chimney onto the roof hole when the teacher came by.

“Oh, no,” she said, lifting my square house, “that’s not right,” and squashed it back into a crude ball.

It happened so fast I had no time to grab it back or scream or kick her shins. I was stunned. I’d always been praised for things I made.

“Here, I’ll fix it for you,” she said, crouching downs beside my table.

My eyes glazed over. I watched her make a duplicate of her model, turn it over, and inscribe my name, Dorothy, on the back. She didn’t know I could write my own name.

I never touched that ashtray, never gave the glazed and fired version to my mother. I vowed that when I got an allowance, I’d make zillions of ashtray houses out of red and yellow and green and blue clay.

The teacher had made me angry, but I didn’t cry. I felt sorry for her. She thought the world was crude round lumps of clay. I knew otherwise.

Back home in Geneva, New York, my father worked at the Experiment Station. My mother cooked and sewed.

I worked at reading a new book by Frank Baum. I loved it. It was about me. Even though I didn’t live in Kansas. And never saw a tornado. How amazing! I didn’t know him but he knew me. He gave me adventures.

Then my mother took me to the movie. I came out afterwards in a daze. I knew it was made for me, it was made about me.

Overnight our three cats Reetren and Reer Ti and Resorbkin no longer counted. I kept whining around asking, “Where’s my dog Toto? When am I gonna get my dog Toto?”

I never got Toto, but I got the dream. For years I insisted that The Wizard of Oz had been made totally in Technicolor. That’s how it had been etched in my mind.

Life is an adventure in Technicolor. Down a yellow brick road to the Emerald City. With friends. My neighborhood buddies the Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow.

Only later would I learn that it takes more than a pair of red shoes and a pail of water banish evil.

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