The Imaginactory

On the night of October 1, 2009, I enjoyed the unfettered slumbers of the poor. The next morning, I awoke rich. Not Beverly Hills rich, or even Pittsburgh rich, I stepped out of bed Sycamore Shadows rich, which means you get credit at Freese’s Grocery and that Joe Ballard expects your donation to the annual “Guns for Kids” drive at Christmas time. I didn’t know of my new-found wealth that morning or I wouldn’t have eaten peanut butter on a spoon for breakfast, but later that day I received the news that my great-uncle Phineas Sanderling had named me the sole heir of his estate. Not only that, he had selflessly succumbed to an illness so I could collect the bequest.

Minister Westminster preached a fine graveside sermon, saying that Phineas would have wanted us to celebrate his life, not dwell on his death, which, as I had never meant my uncle, seemed easy enough. That evening I told my parents of my inheritance, consisting of the former Sanderling Pottery on 57 acres and a generous amount of cash. As expected, my mother cried and my father retired to the bedroom to find pertinent verses from the book of Proverbs. Three hours later, having had ample time to inspect the building and plan my future, I declared that the dilapidated, 117-year-old pottery building with a density of 87 spiders per cubic foot would make a suitable dwelling. The following December, while my parents prayed for their “prodigal son,” certain that I would be dining with the hogs by spring, I moved into the partially renovated structure, renaming it the Imaginactory. Work on the building would continue until 2013.

Erected in 1893 by Schubert Sanderling at the end of Plane Tree Lane, elder locals still refer to my building as the “Urinal Works.” If you think me perilously close to bathroom humor, something I dislike as much as you do, I apologize, but when writing of a pottery that manufactured urinals, it is unavoidable. After all, folks didn’t install them in the kitchen. This is bathroom humor of necessity, not inclination.

And if your imagination conjures up the plain white urinals of today, squash the vision. These were Sanderling urinals, designed by seven highly skilled artists known as “uringineers,” decorated with pastoral scenes, flowers, sailing ships, birds, cherubs, and patriotic motifs; some even featured poetry about love and beauty, popular songs, or short ditties composed by employees.

By the turn of the 20th century the pottery employed 100 workers, shipping the increasingly ornate urinals throughout the world. Unfortunately, their artistic excellence precipitated their downfall. The urinals had become so beautiful and exquisite that people quit using them for their intended purpose. No longer seen in bathrooms, Sanderling urinals decorated parlors, churches, and courthouses, or served as centerpieces on dining room tables. While plain white urinals survived the stock market crash of 1929, decorative urinals could not; in 1932 company owner Allaster Sanderling, son of the founder and my great-grandfather, closed the pottery forever.

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