These two stories deal with the same problem: the temptation to lie to hide a mistake. The temptation to lie to cover up a mistake is a common one, and most people, at some point in their lives, give in to the temptation to pretend they haven’t done something that, in fact, they have.

In “The  Clay Pot,” Sashi gives in to this temptation and lies. In “The Mother’s Day Gift,” Mathew resists temptation and tells the truth. Fiction is often used by authors to explore difficult human problems, and few human problems are as difficult as the ones dealt with in these two stories. Mathew’s test, in “The Mother’s Day Gift,” is not as severe as Sashi’s. Mathew was careless and broke a window on a rebound, but his mother’s life wasn’t bound up with the window in any way. His mistake was in the form of an accident.

Sashi’s mistake was more serious. She purposely, out of laziness, did something she was prohibited from doing. In both stories the mothers responded to what their children did by seeing it as an opportunity to strenghten their bond with their child. They both understood that the most valuable object between mother and child is something that cannot be touched but can be broken, and that is trust. Both mothers used the actions of their child to lovingly nurture trust so the bond of trust would be made stronger.

Project: Write a story about trust and lying

It is easy to be honest when there are no consequences to telling the truth! But it is not easy to tell the truth when you think that your words may get you in trouble. There are many famous stories and novels written for adults that explore the difficulty of telling the truth when lying seems safer or easier.

Create a test of trust for your character. Your character might, for example, want to go out to play before finishing his or her homework. A friend offers a solution: lie about the homework  and finish it later. A bigger test might be that your character borrows something and either loses it or breaks it. An even bigger test of trust would be one where your character is actually tempted to steal something, does steal it, and then lies about stealing it.

Show us how your character responds to the test you create. Show us what, if anything, your character learns from his or her experience. Of course, there will always be at least two people involved in a story about trust. Show, as Naomi and Mathew do, what the other person expected of your main character and how that person responds to what happens.

In order to test your character’s trustworthiness you need to build up the significance of the trouble your character thinks he or she could get into by being found out. Naomi and Mathew took different approaches to building up their characters’ problems. Naomi builds up the significance of Sashi’s problem by showing us how important that one clay pot was to her mother. “It wasn’t the beauty of the pot, it was that it was part of her mother.” Mathew builds up the significance of his character’s problem by showing us how upset he was by what he had done. “My stomach immediately pole-vaulted into my throat . . . I could feel my body beginning to sweat and I felt sick.” Mathew’s character clearly thinks he will get in big trouble for what he did, and this is what makes his response courageous.

When you tell your story, you have a choice of voices: the “I” (first person) voice that Mathew uses, or the “he/she/it” (third person) voice that Naomi uses. The first-person voice emphasizes the experience and feelings of the central character, while the third-person voice emphasizes the larger world in which the tale takes place.

Whichever perspective you choose as the author of your piece, be sure, like Naomi and Mathew, to tell us the whole story, from the beginning: ” the whole “who, what, where, why,  and when” of what happened to test your character’s honesty.

From Stone Soup, Summer 1999

The Clay Pot

by Naomi Wendland, age 12, Lusaka, Zambia

It was a cool, dusky morning in a village by a river bank. A mother and her daughter sat and watched the sky above the horizon change colors—from blue to purple to pink to orange-red. It was a good start to a new day.

It was only when the sun peaked over the horizon that the other people of the village emerged. Sashi knew then that her mother would have to start the fire. Sashi and her mother, Betra, had sat and watched the sun every morning since Sashi could remember, but once the families started to awaken, the chores would have to be started.

Her mother would usually start up a hot fire for the porridge to be cooked. Once she had done that, the task of feeding the family would be under way. It was Sashi’s job to make sure there was enough wood for the fire and that her two younger sisters and younger brother were ready and awake for the new day ahead of them.

Sashi and her mother had a special relationship between them—unlike any other relationship between a mother and daughter in the village. They could always share feelings and jobs. But there was something that they never did together—pot making. Her mother was a well-known potter. She specialized in her pots. Betra’s pots were sold in the city, and the money from the pots was used to support the family, for the father of Sashi had gone away and not returned. There was a strange feeling and look about Betra’s pots that lured people to them. Sashi thought it was partially because Betra spent so much time on them, but mostly because Betra would talk to the pots and the pot would talk to her. While Betra would be making the pot, she would have to be alone. Not even the little child, Chachala, could talk to her. Betra would make sure that she didn’t spend too much time on the pot instead of being outside with her family.

Out of all the pots Betra made, there was one that Sashi had seen all her life. It was the only one that Betra ever kept. It was a big pot with many small designs on it. This pot was not as pretty as the pots that were sold in the city, but it was said that it was Betra’s first pot that she had made with her mother. It wasn’t the beauty of the pot, it was that it was a part of her mother. It sat to the right of the doorway of the small hut and had never been moved. Betra had told the children since they were babies that they were never to touch it.

Soon the porridge had been eaten. Two of the three older children ran off screaming with laughter to go play with the other children of the village. Chachala, the youngest, who hadn’t learned to walk yet, started to play in the dirt. Her dark skin had been lightened by the tan dirt from the earth. Betra and Sashi both knew it was time for bathing her, but Betra needed to make her pots, so it was obvious that Sashi would be stuck with it. Betra staggered away behind some bushes with the heavy bag of clay on her head to do her pot. Sashi and Chachala were left alone.

Sashi went to fetch the big tin tub from inside the hut. She dragged it out beside the ashes left from the fire. She looked around for the bucket that was used to haul water, but it was nowhere in sight. She checked inside the hut. Then she remembered that Mrs. Tembo from the western side of the village had borrowed it to water her garden. She looked around her. The only other things to carry water were a small dried gourd and the old pot. It was logical, the pot was bigger so it could carry more water. If she used the pot, it would take a much shorter time. She went over to the pot and held it in her hands. Then she remembered what her mother had said. She was just going to put it down when she remembered that she wanted to play with Lyan.

At first on her way to the river bank, she held the pot tightly in her hands. As she walked further, she found it easier to put it on her head. She held a tight grip with her hands, one hand on each side of the pot. As she walked further, she found it easier to put it on her head. She held a tight grip on it with both hands. However, both hands soon reduced to one; then she slowly let go and balanced it on her head. It wobbled a bit, but it was a light pot for its size. Finally, she reached the cool water. The water was soothing to her hard dry hand, and when she sipped the water, she could feel it go down her throat. Sashi dipped the pot in the water and the water filled to the brim. She found the pot surprisingly heavy and had great difficulty lifting it out of the river. Once she had placed it on her head, it felt as if a ton of bricks swayed down on her. Her steps were slow strides. The water splashed over the sides and got Sashi wet. Slowly the pot started to slip off her head. She felt it when it was too late. As her hand went up to catch it, it slipped, plummeting to the ground, smashing into hundreds of pieces. She cupped her mouth as she stared at the scattered pot pieces. Sashi fell on her knees and started to cry. She held a few broken pieces in her hands and began to wail louder. It hurt her to know that she had just broken something that meant so much to her mother. It was her mother’s history. Still sobbing, she swept up all the pieces with her shaking hand. She scooped the pieces into her dress and started home. Chachala watched as Sashi poured them into a small gourd cup. She then hid it under her blankets. Meanwhile she swept the ground around the hut.

Soon after, Betra returned. Her first sight was Chachala’s face. “Why is she not clean?” Betra questioned.

“I forgot and played with Lyan,” Sashi lied.

“Well, you better fetch some water. I will help you wash her.” She looked around as if looking for the bucket to hand to Sashi. As she scanned the room, she noticed her pot wasn’t in its place. “Where is my pot?” she spoke angrily. She walked over and touched the spot where it used to be.

“Well, Mother, while I was gone, Chachala rolled it over and cracked it by hitting it with stones.”

“Tell me how she could have turned that pot over and hit it with such force that it broke. Besides, you know to take her with you,” Betra said fiercely.

Sashi looked aside, for she could say nothing. Tears filled her eyes as she thought of what happened. Betra’s face was tight. Her eyes flamed red with anger. Sashi felt so small in front of her mother. She thought, Will we never watch the sun together again?

Sashi was ready to be yelled at, but instead, her mother said in a soft weak voice, “You lied, you lied to me. Can’t I trust my own daughter?” She covered her face and wept sorrowfully. She collapsed on her knees and began to cry. Sashi ran into the hut and got the pieces. She placed them before her mother. Betra took her hand from her face and stared at the small gourd shell. “How can a big pot be in a small gourd?” Betra asked slowly as she reached for the gourd and poured out the pieces. Then she put two of the pieces in her hand. She stared at them for a long time. Suddenly, she began to gather all the broken pieces in her torn dress and walked behind some bushes. Sashi knew that she wouldn’t return for a long time so she started to make a fire for the porridge at mealtime. By the time the two children returned from play, the porridge was ready to be eaten. Although the children didn’t see their mother, they didn’t ask any questions. That meal was a quiet one.

The sun was nearing the horizon when the mother appeared from the bushes. She called for Sashi, and Sashi followed her as she walked on a dusty path. It was the same path her mother would take when she was going pot making. Finally, they came to a spot with a lighted fire and clay pots scattered all around. She and her mother sat down. “We are going to make your first pot. This will be no ordinary pot. It will be the pot that reassures us both that we will never lie to each other. It will be like the pot my mother and I made.”

So Sashi and Betra made that pot from the remains of the former pot, and it stood at the right of the hut. It always was a reminder that they should be true to their word and never lie.

From Stone Soup, Summer 1999

The Mother’s Day Gift

by Mathew Thompson, age 11, Dallas, Oregon

IT WAS MOTHER’S DAY, 1993. My friend Adam had come over to spend the night on Saturday. We watched old movies until about eleven p.m. and then camped out on the living room floor. Sunday morning Adam and I got up early and made pancakes. After breakfast we went outside to play cops and robbers and ride bikes.

Dad came home from work for lunch at noon and we ate with him. After Dad left, Adam and I decided to go out and play ball. We live on top of a hill, and the only field nearby is behind a big metal water tower. The city uses a little building beside that for a pump station, so everyone up here will have good water pressure. We pitched the ball back and forth to each other and took turns batting. Beginning to tire of this, Adam went in the house to get my Super Soaker Fifty squirt guns and I stayed outside, bouncing the ball off the water tower to practice my pitching.

Pitch–THUNK–catch it. Pitch–THUNK–catch it. Then, bouncing the ball, I threw it extra hard against the water tower. What a mistake! The ball bounced back off the water tower, almost hitting me, then flew through the window of the water pump station. CRASH!!! Did I mention that the window was not open? Well, it was now!

My stomach immediately pole-vaulted into my throat! Just then Adam came around the corner. Seeing my pale stare he said, “Close your mouth or you will catch bugs. Hey, what’s wrong?”

My stomach in a knot, I blurted out, “I accidentally broke the window.” I pointed to the water shed. The ball had made a perfect round hole through the glass, with rays shattered around it.

“Uh-oh,” Adam said. “Just walk away and nobody will ever notice. You’re gonna get in trouble if you tell!”

I pushed Adam aside and walked to the front yard where Mom was working. I could feel my body beginning to sweat and I felt sick. Swallowing hard, I told Mom about the window. Mom said, “Let’s go take a look.” I felt like a doomed man walking back toward that building. Mom looked at the window. Nothing magic had happened–that window still had a big hole in it. “Well,” asked Mom, “have you learned anything from this?” We talked about angles and glass strength and throwing things against the water tower. (My mom can make a math lesson out of almost anything!) I could feel my eyes beginning to burn, and two big tears snuck out and dripped down my cheeks. I’m telling you, I felt just awful! I leaned my head against Mom’s shoulder and she put her arms around me.

“Son,” she said, “everyone has accidents, but it is how you deal with those accidents that makes the difference between honesty and dishonesty. I know that telling me about this wasn’t easy, especially when your friend said he thought you shouldn’t, so that makes me very proud of you.” She gave me a big hug and Adam reached out and touched my arm. “The only time you’d be in trouble with me over something like this is if you didn’t tell me, or if you lied to me about it. And besides that, if you lie or try to hide these things, you get black, ugly-feeling places inside because you still know what really happened. You cannot cover up the truth of your actions from yourself.”

I sniffed and tried to clear my throat. “I will pay for the window,” I said, even though a picture of the tent I had been saving for floated through my mind. . . .

On Monday morning, before school, I went down to the city shops and told the water people about my accident. I told them I wanted to pay for my mistake. I said to fix the window and send me the bill. They did. It cost me forty-eight dollars and sixty-two cents. It certainly wasn’t a very fun way to spend my money! So my pockets are empty, but my conscience is clear.

The funny thing is that my mom says telling her was the best Mother’s Day present I could have ever given her.

Both stories © 1999 Children’s Art Foundation

About the Author

In 1973, I was twenty years old, teaching children's art classes at my college, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and came up with the idea that the best way to encourage children to write was to introduce them to the best writing by their peers. Stone Soup grew out of that idea, and I have continued to publish Stone Soup for all these years.
I am also a culinary historian. I write about traditional foodways. My book, "The Magic of Fire," is about hearth cooking. My book, "Bread, a global history," speaks for itself. I am currently writing a bread history for a University Press. I publish articles on gardening and traditional foodways at Mother Earth News. I also publish on wild mushrooms and other food-related subjects.

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