We all get little hunks of clay, all the same size, cut from the teacher's big block. Some of the boys want to make great big bowls or dinner plates, so they're making huge, thin, flat rounds with uneven rims, pressing the clay out really thin and about a foot wide. That's not the right way to do it! Our textbook about Juan, the boy from Mexico, says he made a bowl by putting his two fists together for an opening and then forming the clay around them. So that's how I do it too. It makes a heavy, deep, thick, small bowl that looks sort of like the pottery I've seen in gift shops. Plus it seems less likely to break in the oven, like the teacher is telling the boys their big thin pieces will. I work on it very hard for a long time trying to get it even and just right. I've never made a bowl before because the only clay I have at home is Play-Doh and it dries out really fast and shrinks and cracks and you have to throw it away and you don't get enough in a can to make anything decent anyway.
This clay is much nicer to work with than Play-Doh, and it doesn't dry out. I work and work for what seems like hours, trying to mold the rim nice and even. At last I am finished. Very carefully, I carry my heavy little bowl over to give to the teacher, Mrs. K, thinking she will say that my bowl is nice and that I did it the right way, like Juan the Mexican boy. Instead she grabs the bowl and starts scolding me. "Oh, just look at your dress!" And I look down and see that I have clay all over my front. I was concentrating so hard on my bowl, I didn't even notice I was getting clay on myself. They don't make us wear smocks or anything, and I never pay attention to my clothes. Every day my mom sends me to school in a plaid or solid color school dress and tights, not pants or jeans, because she says little girls should be properly dressed for school. I don't like the tights at all. They itch and are hard to get into. But other than that I don't much care about what I wear. Only about reading and playing and making things.
So now my whole green plaid dress front is half-dried gray clay residue and Mrs. K is going on and on about how upset my mother is going to be when she sees that dress and why wasn't I more careful. It seems like Mrs. K never misses a chance to scold me or fuss about something. She never thinks my art projects are as good as the other kids. Like when we made construction paper birds for springtime, she made me make a Robin even though I wanted to make a Red bird, and then when she told us to make wings by taking a square and rounding off the corners I tried to cut the construction paper the right way but the round-tipped safety scissors were so blunt I could barely get them through the paper. They literally hurt my hands, they didn't feel like the sharper scissors I use at home. I thought it looked OK anyway. But when I turned in my bird, Mrs. K thought that my rounded wing was still too square and sighed exasperatedly and took her own sharp scissors and cut some more off it, and sent a comment home to my parents that I had "trouble manipulating the scissors and crayons." I don't understand any of this because my bird, even with a squarish wing and head, still looked a lot better than, say, Tommy's, who got to make a Red bird and then stuck the head on it in the completely wrong place. I would have made a much better looking Red bird than that! As for the crayon part, I write my name with the crayons smaller and neater than the other kids, only about an inch high, while most of them make uneven letters the size of the whole paper. The crayons they give us are awfully fat, as thick as markers, not like the little Crayolas I use at home, although I kind of like the big fat crayons. I color mostly inside the lines, I am pretty good about that, much better than I was when I was three. And on top of that I can read very well, better than anyone else in the kindergarten, grown-up books even (although they are boring so I only read them when some adult asks me to demonstrate), and it seems like that should be at least as important as Scissors and Crayons. But Mrs. K never says anything about that.
I try to brush off my dress, but the clay won't brush so I give up. In the back of my mind for the rest of the morning, I wonder vaguely if my mom is going to be mad at me.
At noon I go home and tell mom, "We made bowls out of clay today, but I got it all over my dress. I'm sorry. Mrs. K said you'd be mad at me."
My mom rolls her eyes and looks exasperated, but at Mrs. K, not at me. It's a look I know well, the I'm-dealing-with-idiots look she frequently directs towards rude store clerks and credit people on the telephone and Mrs. K who, I am beginning to realize, she does not like at all. (Many years later, Mom explained to me that besides the scissors-and-crayons idiocy, she had decided Mrs. K was not only stupid, but also a racist after Mrs. K cancelled Show and Tell the day I brought in a black souvenir doll that my daddy bought me on his business trip to Baton Rouge. Apparently Mrs. K quit teaching the following year. My mother has always insisted I was the kid who drove her out of the business.)
"Oh, kids get dirty," says Mom. "Go change your clothes, put the dress down the laundry chute and come have lunch." She isn't mad at me. I'm glad.
So that was the end of that. My bowl didn't crack in the oven, and I painted it blue and yellow and green and just a little red at the bottom, and took it home and gave it to my mom, who put it on her dresser to hold safety pins and junk. Sometimes on her dresser, sometimes in her dresser drawer. I haven't looked lately but I imagine it is still there, more than 35 years later, amidst the steadily accumulating junk, even as the wrecking ball knocks down my kindergarten school a few blocks away.