the bench my brother built
if you meandered up the bluestone walk to my front door, if you peered through the panes of glass, pressed your nose maybe, you would see it.
if i swung wide the door, urged you to come in–here, please, sit down, take a load off your toes–you would see it. you would sit on it. unless of course you opted to plunk down on one of the steps of the creaky oak stairs.
it is, from here on in, the first thing you see when you walk in my house. it says, sit, please. it says, what unfolds in this house is simple, straight-forward, is bent in unending embrace. is authentic.
that’s a big load for a bench. but the bench, built by my faraway brother, can carry it. i know. i’ve known my brother for 40-some years. marveled at every last thing he’s put his well-muscled hands to. and his heart.
this bench, though, is something quite else. is enough to leave me groping for words.
here’s proof: we got it last week; you haven’t heard of it yet.
the bench, conceived and created in maine, rumbled up my snow-covered street in a truck the likes of which usually pulls down to a dock, at some industrial warehouse. not used to a lane where houses, like notes on a scale, mark out the meter of everyday life.
i paid off the driver, a 20 is all, just to help roll the bench in a box–135 pounds–up the snow mounds, down the snow-shoveled walk. then, the driver, he cartwheeled it up the front stoop, into the door. i tried not to look.
and there it sat, for hours. till the men of the house got home, got hammers and knives. had at it. unearthed it from layers and layers. first cardboard, then crate made of wood. then shrink-wrapped, heat-sealed green plastic, then paper, then pliable foam. more sheets of foam. eight layers in all before we finally, finally saw what the fuss was about.
oh my, is all i could say. all the rest came in gasps.
as i took in the cherry smoothed like the cheek of a pearl. caught a glance at the spindles, each one a work of true shaker-esque art. and patience. and love.
yes, my brother, a builder of chairs and dressers and tables in maine, my brother spent hours sanding and waxing and carving and fitting. not a nail on that bench. just wood easing for wood. wood yielding. wood behaving as wood under grace, wood revered, wood respected behaves. this wood was not banged. this wood was coaxed, cooed into place. this wood was crafted, disciplined, seduced into place.
my brother took cherry, took ash. whispered sweet somethings. told it the story, perhaps, of the house where it would spend its long life.
once trees in new england. now a bench not far from chicago, the city that works. the city with very broad shoulders. now a bench in a rather old house. a house on a street simply called maple. cherry meet maple. maple meet ash.
the bench is home now. it came with a letter. penned in brown ink on its underside, but typed and put onto paper besides.
the builder, my brother, wrote this, in part, on the bench:
“beside the doorway to your home, this bench will serve sometimes as a seat for two, but more often as a place for backpacks or grocery sacks, attaches or athletic gear, bundles of herbs or stacks of library books. over time the cherry will darken to its natural patina and nicks, scratches, dents and dings will appear to mark the comings and goings at maple avenue.”
not every bench comes with a story built in. not every bench comes carved from the hands of someone you love.
as my sweet husband said, gushing there on the phone, not long after the whole of the bench had been birthed from its eight-layered womb: “you love it, if you buy it. but you really love it if you know–and love–the person who made it.”
our home, it seems, is being filled with heirlooms in reverse. we do not have armoires and dressers from generations before us. no, we have living breathing heirlooms. heirlooms from the start. ours do not acquire their story after the fact. but rather, they start with a story, and journey from there.
the nicks, the scratches, the dents and the dings, those will be the notches that continue the story.
the story began something like this: far away, in a place where ocean waves crash, far away in the great woods of maine, an uncle and brother with hands that are sculpted, sat down with a pile of cherry and ash.
he carved and he glued, and he rasped, and he varnished. he sanded and sanded, then he rubbed it with wax. he imagined the boys and the bottoms that would make their way to the bench.
he packed it and shipped it off to them all. all those miles and miles and miles away. over rivers and mountains and plains. through star-studded nights and snow-blowing days. till it got to the place of the words and the numbers, scrawled on the side of the very big box.
his sister, then, welcomed it home.
she washed it with tears. she imagined the chapters in the whole of its life.
she would sit there perhaps when her boys went to college. she would sit there to listen the days they came home. there might be sweethearts spooned in that bench. there might be a baby, some day, laid down and wrapped in a soft tight papoose. some day, perhaps, an old lady with tired old bones will sit and drink in her house, and her life, and her very good fortune. some day, once again, the bench will be wrapped, and moved on to its next destination. one of those boys, surely, will make it a very good home. and it will sit, knicked, dented, and dinged, with quite a story to tell.
it’s what happens when someone you love builds you a bench that, at once, is a living, breathing 24-spindled story.
not everyone has a bench-building brother. but all of you might have a something tucked in a corner, something with a story to tell. what is the something? and what is the story? and by the way, if you’re looking this way, thank you, sweet david. it really is something, the bench with the story you built. xoxo