by Daniel Pociernicki

In the faraway land of Spain, in the little town of Santa Nuova, there lived a tiny, but not unimportant potter.  His name was El Potso.  Now in Spain, people are very fond of their animals, and they often use pottery figures to decorate their windowsills and tables at Christmastime.  El Potso was known throughout Spain as a remarkably gifted potter, and he was especially renowned for his animal creations.  They were so recognizable that he didn’t even need to put his name on them anymore.

El Potso would soon be celebrating his 93rd birthday.  Although he was very old, he hadn’t lost his love of life or his youthful energy.  His eyes had as much shine and sparkle as the eyes of any five‑year‑old.  Everybody in Santa Nuova loved El Potso, and he always had a warm smile and a twinkling glance for everyone who visited his little shop.  There was a magical atmosphere there.  Often, customers just stood and smiled at all the various colors and shapes of his work.  El Potso was a superb artist and each figure had an indefinable charisma.

But there was one particular thing that irritated him.  A few of his customers wanted him to make his designs exactly the same as the ones he had made the year before and the year before that and as far back as El Potso’s almost‑93‑year‑old mind could remember.  To these requests, he replied, “Why must the cow which I create look exactly like a real cow?  We have enough real cows in the world.  I like to create cows and horses that are different from the ones we milk or ride!”  His customers simply humored him and then went on to insist that he make the same kind of cow, horse or dog as he had always made.  “But you are robbing me of my creativity!  I am like a machine running all day in a factory!”  One customer merely replied, “My dear El Potso, you should be thankful that you are able to create such realistic animals.  You should not wish for anything different.”

*   *   *   *   *

The months of November and December were the busiest ones of the year for El Potso, and he was filling orders day and night.  Everybody wanted copies of “El Potso Originals”.  Late on Christmas Eve, El Potso was putting the finishing touches on the last of his orders.  He was bored and disenchanted and had very little desire to finish his work.  His eyelids became heavier by the minute, and soon his head drooped so low that it touched the workbench.  He fell asleep.

Hours passed, and sometime in the deep dark of the middle of the night, there came a bump at the door.  It was a strange bump, an other-worldly sound.  El Potso thought that the noise was part of his dream.  He grunted and continued to sleep.  And then several more sounds:  swish—scrape—jostle—swish—scrape—jostle.  A few minutes later—another strange thump.  Through the hazy remnants of his dream, El Potso realized that the sounds were real.  He lifted the guttering candle, pulled himself up wearily and stumbled to the door.  It creaked open and there, revealed by the feeble candlelight, was a large bull.

“Why, how extraordinary!” El Potso thought.  “A bull, all by itself!”

Before El Potso could say anything, the bull pushed gently past him into the shop.

“How very unusual,” observed El Potso.  This was a very strange bull indeed, quite the oddest animal he had ever seen!  The hair on his body was a radiant mustard color, his horns had a golden glow, and his stomach was enormous, lopsided, and off‑center.  Just as El Potso was about to laugh at this comical sight, the bull swung his head around and gazed at the old potter.  The eyes of the bull were big, warm brown, and full of loving kindness.  El Potso was astonished when the bull contentedly folded his legs underneath himself and fell fast asleep on the floor.

As the bull slept soundly, El Potso became even more intrigued by the peculiar shape of the animal’s body.  “Why, it must be the only one of its kind in the world,” he marveled, “and perhaps this is the only time I will ever see such an extraordinary creature.”

El Potso was suddenly seized with great inspiration.  He felt an irresistible urge to make a clay model of this beloved bull.  He felt like a young man once more!  He deftly began to sculpt the big, bulging stomach, chuckling and giggling to himself.  Finally, he placed the clay model gently into the kiln.  Wiping his hands on his apron with satisfaction, he turned and tip‑toed silently over to the beloved bull.  He hesitated a moment, then leaned down carefully and gave the generous belly a tender kiss.

When it was time to remove his precious creation from the hot kiln, El Potso gazed at it incredulously.  It was awkward, it was off‑center, and it was out of proportion.  But it was magical, just like the real animal!  El Potso loved it!

The glow of the morning sun began to stream through the window.  Why, it was already Christmas Day!  Then taking up his paintbrush, he did something he hadn’t done in years.  With a grand flourish, he painted on the bottom of the clay bull, “an El Potso Original”.

But then he felt a soft push at his elbow and he found himself looking into the eyes of the real bull.  There was such kindness in these eyes!  El Potso opened the door and watched as the bull swayed side to side through the doorway and stopped to sniff the air.  He turned his nose to the right and, with a swish of his tail, waved a kind good‑bye.

*   *   *   *   *

Christmas Day passed, and El Potso lovingly gave the clay bull pride of place on the first shelf above his workbench.  He was very proud of this creation and was quite sure that many of his customers would order copies.

But El Potso was wrong.  As wrong as he could be.  Most of his customers didn’t even notice the bull.  Several of them laughed when they caught sight of it and asked if he had been too full of Christmas cheer when he made this creation.  Yet another asked him if his eyes had begun to fail.  “But this is my finest creation!” El Potso spluttered.  “You peasants can’t recognize a real work of art!”

It was a terrible year for the poor old potter.  The gleam faded from his eyes, and he no longer seemed to enjoy life.  Kind words were replaced by grunts and grumbles.  When November came, El Potso looked every minute of his 93 years.  All of the creative energy from last Christmas Eve was gone.  El Potso could only force a sad smile when his eyes fell upon the figure of his strange, beloved bull.  Everyone in town thought that El Potso was living his final days and wouldn’t last until Christmas.  He believed the same thing but didn’t care to admit it.

Another Christmas Eve came, and El Potso was startled by the sound of a horse clopping in the street.  It came to a stop outside.  There was a loud rap on the door.  He didn’t answer it.  There was a second, more insistent knock.  El Potso groaned and dragged his tired body to the door.

There in the threshold stood a stranger.  El Potso stared at his unusual clothing and knew that he must come from very far away.  He had black, piercing eyes which gave him a somewhat menacing look.  For a moment, El Potso was frightened, but the stranger grinned broadly and extended a reassuring hand.  El Potso shook it reluctantly and forced a smile.

“Hellooooo!” boomed the stranger.  “Are you the GRRRRREAT El Potso?”

El Potso shook his head and said weakly, “Yes, I am El Potso but I’m not great.  No, I am most certainly not great.”  El Potso looked at the stranger quizzically.  “And who are you?”

“I am Enrico!” he announced grandly as he strode confidently into the shop without an invitation.  He paced up and down the cluttered floor of the shop, asking a flurry of questions.  Suddenly he came to an abrupt stop, his eyes fixed on the beloved bull.  “When did you make this?  It is truly magnificent!  Surely it is one of your most unique creations!”

El Potso regarded Enrico for several moments and then replied slowly, “I made it last Christmas Eve.”

Enrico jumped around the room like a little monkey.  “Oh, could you make a copy of it for me?”

El Potso’s eyes softened and he could hardly speak.  “You mean…you want a copy of the bull…for yourself?”

“Yes, yes, of course!” shouted Enrico with glee.

El Potso simply beamed.  “Yes, I would be most delighted to make one for you!”

Enrico was about to leave, but then hesitated.  “Oh, I almost forgot the reason why I came!  I wanted to ask you to create something special for me, an ‘El Potso Original’.  Can you do it, and can you have it ready for tomorrow?”

“Perhaps, if it is possible.  What do you have in mind?”

Enrico began to describe excitedly what he wanted El Potso to create, his words tumbling one over the other.  “I would like you to create a horse that has short, heavy, squat legs and a neck almost as long as that of a giraffe, his mane must look like a zebra’s mane, his middle is quite long and unusual, it should look like the world’s largest sausage roll, the tail is nothing to speak of—it’s not any larger than a rabbit’s tail….  But the head….”  He came to a stop.  Almost reverently, he continued, “Oh, the head is special!  It has the pride of a king, the eyes are royal!”

He stared intently at El Potso.  “I know what you’re thinking.  You’re almost ready to laugh, but if you were to look into this horse’s eyes, you would forget all about his funny body parts.  His eyes demand respect.”

El Potso nodded his understanding, for he remembered well the beloved bull and the beautiful eyes so full of loving kindness.

Then Enrico said, “Come outside!  I will show you what I mean!”

El Potso followed him, and then blinked.  He couldn’t believe what he saw.  He rubbed his eyes.  He could barely speak.  “Is—is—is that your—your horse?” he gasped.

“Yes, of course,” laughed Enrico.  “What on earth did you think I was describing?”

“Well—well—well,” stammered El Potso, “I thought that you had imagined your horse.”

All of the things Enrico had described were there:  Short legs, sausage middle, rabbit tail, giraffe neck and zebra mane!  And when El Potso looked into the horse’s eyes, he could see the pride of all the kings of all time.  The tiny old potter was once again full of inspiration, just as he had been with the beloved bull.

“So, my dear old El Potso, could you have my order ready for me on Christmas Day?”

“Yes, I believe I can,” agreed El Potso.

“Oh, thank you, thank you!” shouted Enrico, “and don’t forget my copy of that wonderful bull!”

“I won’t!” he nodded.

And with a Whoosh! El Potso’s new friend and his strange little horse were away.

*   *   *   *   *

El Potso hurried into his shop.  He was filled with joy as he settled down to work.  Before he knew it, Christmas Day had arrived!  His new work was ready.  El Potso removed it from the kiln and beamed with satisfaction.  He was pleased with both of his creations.  “What a perfect companion for my beloved bull!  A proud sausage horse!”

And then he had a sad realization.  He had forgotten to make a copy of the beloved bull!  “Well, there’s nothing else to do.  I must give my original clay bull to Enrico,” he decided with a sigh.  He took the beloved bull down from its place of honor on the shelf and cradled it in his arms.  “You have been a dear friend, the best friend I’ve had all year.”  He gently placed his masterpiece down on the workbench, and prepared for Enrico’s arrival.

Soon he heard the familiar knock and Enrico rushed inside as if he had been shot from a cannon.  He went straight to the workbench and looked at the beloved bull and the sausage horse.  “Oh!  The horse is fantastic, Master El Potso!  It is exactly as I imagined it!”

He picked up the horse and examined it with delight.  Marveling at the exquisite workmanship, he reverently turned it over in his hands and said with appreciation, “Ah!  You are a true artist!”

El Potso looked at Enrico and said clearly, “Sir, I have not made a copy of the beloved bull.  I have only the original.”

Enrico was dismayed.  “But you promised!  You promised to have my order ready!”

“I know, dear sir, and I don’t intend to disappoint you.”  He picked up the sausage horse in one hand and the beloved bull in the other, and placed them tenderly into Enrico’s hands.  “Here is your order, my friend.”

“But—but I can’t afford to pay for originals!”

El Potso smiled.  “You have shown more understanding and appreciation of my work than anyone has for years.  I wouldn’t think of accepting money from you.  Besides, you have given me something that no amount of money can buy:  Your kindness has made me feel young again.  Merry Christmas, my friend.  Merry Christmas from the sausage horse, the beloved bull, and El Potso.”

Enrico looked down at the beautiful creations.  “I shall never forget your kindness.  May you continue to be blessed with inspiration.  Merry Christmas, dear El Potso!” he said softly.

And with that, he rode away.

As El Potso walked inside his shop he could only hope that a long, beautiful sleep would ease his melancholy.  He looked at the empty space on the shelf above his workbench and remembered the visit from the real bull.  He lay down and soon fell into a deep sleep.

*   *   *   *   *

“El Potso, El Potso, wake up!”

Stumbling across the room, he once again opened the door.  This time, it was a wine merchant who lived in the center of town.  He was smiling happily at him.

“El Potso, you must come!  The people have asked me to bring you to a celebration!”

“No, no, I’m very tired,” muttered El Potso.

“But it is something especially for you!”

“For me?  What could it be?”

“Please come,” pleaded the merchant.  “You will see!”

“Well, all right,” grumbled El Potso, as he pulled on a bright red overcoat and picked up his cane.

The wine merchant offered El Potso his arm and they shuffled along the bumpy road leading to the town.  In the distance, El Potso could see people dancing in the streets of Santa Nuova.  As they drew nearer the square, he was astonished to hear them singing, “Happy Birthday, El Potso”.  The townspeople had never done this before!  El Potso realized that he had quite forgotten it was his birthday!  He was 94 years old today!

The townspeople cheered and crowded around him.  Many of them were saying, “Your gift to the town is remarkable!  It is the most outstanding work of art you’ve ever done!  Your present is something any town would be proud to have!”

El Potso was confused.  He didn’t know what they were talking about.

“What?  What gift?” he asked.

Everybody laughed and led him to the center of the square, where he suddenly saw a life‑sized Nativity scene.  There were beautiful statues of Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.  And there, to the right of the crib, stood the beloved bull, and to the left was the sausage horse.  But they were different!  They were twenty times larger than El Potso had made them!  It was truly a Christmas miracle.  El Potso fell to his knees and murmured thanks.  He looked into the eyes of the beloved bull and felt the kindness.  The sausage horse seemed even more proud.  El Potso smiled as he remembered the words of the stranger:  “I shall never forget your kindness.”  His eyes filled with tears of joy as he listened to the singing of the townspeople.

Rising to his feet, El Potso shouted, “Merry Christmas, my friends!  This is the happiest day of my life!  May you all be blessed!”