Yesterday, in the aftermath of this week’s blizzard, I took a photograph of the earthenware jug sitting on our back porch. I’ve had this jug since I lived in Toledo, Ohio as a fresh college graduate. I bought it as a gift for my ex-husband before we were married in 1991, and it somehow survived all the moves and downsizings of an almost-thirteen-year marriage: from an apartment in Toledo to apartments in Malden and Beacon Hill, Massachusetts; from a room at the Cambridge Zen Center to a rented house in Randolph; and from a house in Hillsboro, New Hampshire to an apartment in Keene.
Through all those moves with my ex-husband, we always kept the jug despite all the other things we jettisoned: unused wedding gifts, countless books and CDs, and almost an entire houseful of furniture. Through all these moves, we kept the jug—or, more accurately, I kept the jug, since I was invariably the one packing housewares, and I liked it. It’s a sturdy thing that doesn’t take up much space, and I would pack other, more fragile things inside it, wrapping the whole thing in a towel and wedging it in a box with our pots and pans.
This jug has never had a practical use in any home I’ve brought it to: I’ve never used it to hold milk, water, or comestibles of any kind. Instead, it’s a purely decorative thing, a container for dried flowers that always added a sense of settled décor—a homey touch—to any apartment or house I’ve displayed it in. I got to keep the jug in my divorce, as it was one of the things C left behind when he moved out, thereby underscoring a point I guess I already knew: the jug I’d bought for him was really mine all along. When I remarried and moved back to Massachusetts from New Hampshire, the jug necessarily came with me, an artifact from my past holding so many hopes and heartaches.
I sometimes wonder about the maker of this jug, someone who formed it back in Ohio some twenty years ago. Could they have known when they held the wet clay in their hands how far this jug would travel once it was thrown and fired, or how many heartaches it would hold? When I bought this jug in a now-forgotten shop in Toledo, Ohio, could I have imagined how far I’d wander with it or how my journey would differ from what I’d originally envisioned? I bought this jug, after all, for a soul-mate I’ve since severed, and I ended up with it in the end: a jug I always liked, and one I ultimately bought for myself. Twenty-some years ago, I was still pliable clay, messy and malleable, but now I’ve hardened and settled into a place and shape I would have never predicted.
The jug lives outside now, on our screened back porch, safe from the cats who knock over any tchotchkes we display inside. It still holds dried flowers and is mostly sheltered from the elements, except for occasional windblown rain or snow. This jug has proven to be a sturdy thing, withstanding a handful of moves between three states while witnessing countless life changes. Along the way, it’s become precious to me as only an ordinary object can: a simple piece of pottery that holds so much of my history. When the weather is mild, I sit beside it when I read or work outside, and year-round, I see it when I stop on the porch to put on or take off my shoes, which is several times a day. I don’t always notice the jug—it is, after all, an ordinary thing I’ve lived with my entire adult life—but when I do, I’m always glad to have a humble reminder of where I’ve been, from Ohio to Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back to Massachusetts again. This humble little jug has been with me, unassuming, through so many changes and upheavals, and it’s never cracked or broken. I wish I could say the same about myself.