By Sarrah Hurst Groves
My first pottery kiln was a Paragon that I named Chuck. I remember the first day he came home with me--oh, the joy! I had been throwing pots at home and hauling them twenty miles across Tulsa to a public art studio to fire. You can imagine how thrilled I was to have my very own kiln. Even though he had a few years on him, to me he was perfect and new!
Chuck is now 39. We’ve had some serious talks in all our time together. I’ve patted him on the lid like a faithful workhorse, brought him back from the brink of death like a skilled surgeon, fought with him like a frustrated boss, and communed with him like a best friend.
I trust Chuck. He is a safe place to put my precious creations. He was with me when I raised my children; he was there when they left for college. He has seen me through multiple surgeries, and the tearful passings of family, friends and fur babies. Chuck has moved with me thousands of miles across America twice. He was there when my husband was diagnosed with cancer.
Because Chuck is a Paragon kiln, he is sturdy, strong and built to last! Even with catastrophic events, Paragon kilns can be fixed. The parts can be replaced, the elements changed, the firebricks rebuilt, new hinges screwed in, the lid and wiring can all be replaced. They can be used and reused . . . seriously to death!
Chuck’s model was retired 30 years ago. I’m pretty sure Chuck is the only working one left but even then, Paragon kept me going with modified parts. They always have time for me, they treat me like a valued customer, and I am their number one fan. One of their employees has become a cherished friend. When my husband was diagnosed with cancer, they sent me encouragement in a very special and important way, and everyone in the Paragon office signed a card for us. Every time I call the factory they are happy to walk me through the repairs. Can you imagine servicing a second or third generation product 39 years after the original sell? Because of their sterling customer service, I will only own Paragon kilns. I have four now--Vera, my test kiln, Chuck, my old boy, Dave, a beautiful large kiln, and the newest addition, Dave Jr.
Chuck has been in the heat of the fire (pardon my pun) three thousand times or more. He’s been to the front lines of battle for sixty plus years. He’s been patched and pinned over and over. There are patches over patches, but every fix has brought us a few more years together.
Chuck’s battle scars became endearing; the first chip in the firebrick when I unloaded my first 18” platter; the first dent when I tripped and fell into him with a kiln shelf. My first move, my first overfire, when I sat at his feet and cried trying to pry pots off his shelves for three hours. The first time I reworked a switch and mis-wired it and caused a bullet-like hole in the cover plate from the shooting flames. All of these were milestones in his life and mine. In the beginning of his life with me I noticed character, after a decade, a personality, and suddenly one day I woke up and realized I had a real sense of loyalty to him.
I’m not crazy- I do know kilns aren’t people. They aren’t even pets. But there comes a day when that old thing feels like something; no, SOMEONE... someone that has been with me through everything life could throw at me! No, Chuck may not be flesh and blood, but he certainly seems to have a type of soul— his milestones became my milestones, his damage became my damage, and indeed his life had become mingled with my own.
Time has a funny way of collapsing and expanding at the same time. The day he came to me seems like yesterday; it seems like a thousand years ago. That’s what it feels like every time I contemplate saying goodbye to trusty ol’ Chuck. I say it all the time, “Chuck, my ol’ trusty friend, You. Done. Paragon. Proud!”
Recently my husband Rand tentatively said— “Sarrah - I’m so sorry, but don’t you think, just maybe... well.... that it’s time to let Chuck go?” Though normally ‘them is fightin’ words’, I could only hang my head and cry because I knew he was right. All I could say was “This is a very very sad day.” I think Chuck over heard us talking and he seemed sad too, mostly because I was sad, and additionally because we’ve spent a lifetime together. His final gift to me was a final firing of cremation remain pottery. Very Fitting. His passing seems not only sad but significant.
Rand urged me to sell him for $100, but I didn’t feel like explaining all Chuck’s issues, which would inevitably show him in a bad light; he deserves better.
I could donate his body to science. In a kilns’ case means donating him to a desperate potter. They would know nothing of his former glory, they wouldn’t know the day he glistened. No, I fear, Chuck is past the point of restoration. When I haul him out of the kiln room, he will be gone. I’m not sure I can bare it, but I know he wants me to go on. Thank goodness I have Chuck Jr.
No, I’m not crazy, I know Chuck wasn’t alive, but it doesn’t make his death any easier. Goodbye my faithful friend. Goodbye Chuck.
A week later....
Last night I had a dream; Chuck is going to be reincarnated! I’m going to remove all his switches and elements, maybe firebrick, add a ceramic fiber insulation blanket, make some ceramic blanket holding buttons, order some high fire wire, build a pulley system, cut a hole for propane, make his lid his base and make him into a gas raku kiln! Chuck isn’t going anywhere; he and I have another journey to make and we are going to make it together!
Oh the joy!