Pam arrives with her newly acquired zimmer frame, chauffeured by her daughter in the familiar aging Golf. She sets her good leg on the gravel in the crisp sunshine of our first spring day, and levers her body to near vertical, her centre of gravity somewhere between her legs and the frame. She greets me in her precise Queen’s English, despite 45 years in Ireland, grips her handbag and tools firmly, and shuffles towards the pottery door. She is still alive, still a force in her surroundings. Her fine white hair is set and her lipstick just so, a statement of the greatest importance.
She exudes the joy she feels at finally being able to leave the bungalow to return to her class, after her spell in the geriatric ward, and MRSA which nearly carried her off. Five years without fail she’s been coming to the Thursday morning workshop, the longest standing student, always seated in the most comfortable chair by the heater. And as she settles into her new project – an elephant, her life rolls away behind her, hills in shades of green and brown, rich valleys and streams, the war, marriage, careers, children, grandchildren, accolades and achievements all woven into her regal train.
To the others, it’s just a morning class, but for Pam it’s a statement of vitality, a measure of existence. She’s sculpted cats and dogs, stallions and donkeys, portraits of the family, gifts and treasures, struggling to make best use of her arthritic fingers and fading concentration. But in each small piece is a gift of her life-force, an attachment which holds her from her inevitable end.
I sometimes question whether I have run my course with teaching, but then I think of Pam and I have no need to question why I do this.