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
I’m moved. Beyond words.
How lucky you are to have such a talented brother who can gift you and yours with such a fabulous treasure!
I, too am moved beyond words, but also to tears. I think of the love and care that went into building that bench. It is a work of art that will be a cherished possession passed down to the boys and their children and on from there. I remember the story of the chair (see “not just any old seat”, 8/23/07) and I’ve been blessed to plant my posterior on that gorgeous chair. I can picture that beautiful bench gracing the entrance to your home, welcoming guests to sit and stay awhile … just the thing that makes you happy, dearest bam. I can see the books and the boughs and the bouquets that will be rested there. I can imagine the dents and the scratches that will tell stories to future generations that it was lovingly used every day … not set aside as a showpiece to only be admired and never truly utilized as was it’s makers intent. Patina is a divine thing. This bench will always hold sentimental treasure because it was crafted, created, not manufactured. It came with sentiment … the words of the craftsman imprinted as a silversmith makes his mark on a completed piece. I am in awe.
I agree with hh…you are blessed to have such a brother in your life…
What an amazing and beautiful gift! I think that every family needs a woodworker in it. Let me explain why I think this should be the case…..Perhaps I have shared this story here before, but it fits with todays meandering all too well.My grandfather was a master carpenter and builder of homes. He built both of his homes, my aunt’s home and my parent’s first house. Each of these homes were built with the love that you speak of above. My grandfather was supposed to help build my parent’s second home, but unfortunately, his cancer had come out of remission and he did not have the strength to help and he died before the house was built. However, his touch is everywhere in my parents’ house. 1 1/2 years before he died, he began to cut down oak trees on my parents’ property. My dad told him that he could have all the wood from these trees. What my dad didn’t know until my grandfather died, was that my grandfather had all of the wood kiln dried and made into lumber. There was just enough wood for all of the window trim and the fireplace mantle. My grandfather’s love for our family and for the gift of wood is a part of their new home.May all who are welcomed to your entrway, whether it be everyday or just one day out of their life, may they find refuge on this bench.
What a beautiful tribute to an artist and craftsman…and brother. All I could think of was if I could just “parent” with that kind of grace and skilll…ah well, I will work at it anyway. Blessings on the bench and brother.
ahhhh, lamcal, you pierce me with that thought, that promise…….that we could all not bang the wood, but ease it, coax it, soothe it into place, into fitting. if we could sweet-talk our treasures into finding their round peg into a round hole….if, if….and to each and all of you who tell me i am blessed, oh i know it. times four i am. four brothers each a gift. one could not be more different than the next. and yet each is extraordinary. the woodsman, the piano man, the pilot, the gentle giant heart who knows more about everything than anyone i know….to have one who crafts his love, who shapes it, and forms it, and makes it into a continuous arm bench that i can sit and dream upon, well, that takes my breath away, it really does……
Oh bam…aren’t brothers the best and isn’t it their differences rather than their commonalities that truly makes them special – each in his own unique way. I feel blessed to have all of mine also. Each is like a different puzzle piece that fit with me. They inform my life in very special ways. Happy sitting and meandering.
Does your brother want another sister ? because I sure would like a benchlike that !
“heirlooms in reverse.” what a phrase. i love it. i love brothers too. i have two, who are both younger than i and i wouldn’t trade them (and their antics) for anything.i am glad my last comment was so opportune. your words of encouragement are always, always greatly appreciated.
That bench looks like it would melt butter.
I see a future feature, in the Home Section–“My Life in the Front Hall–as told by the Handmade Family Bench”.
Carol’s vision could be posted on your new blog site:pullupabench.org
yuck,yuck.yuck. which does not read as i want it to sound. anyone know how to spell nyah, nyah, nyah? the sound of a snide snicker???? as in that lamcal, she’s such a clever one…..
I think it’s yuk yuk yuk, or nyuk nyuk nyuk if you want that Three Stooges sort of tone. There’s also har har har, a little more of a belly laugh connotation, which can be made slightly more baroque thusly: hardy har har.
bingo. i was looking for the three stooges tone. so now i know. nyuk nyuk nyuk. y’all are ever so helpful……xoxoxo
and this is why we come, to pull up a chair, to be filled with story upon story of what we sometimes forget, to be grateful…oh blessed brother of bam, how extraordinary that you would build a bench-so much like a bridge of love between childhood days and miles apart and then brought all together like the melding of woods in your masterpiece. wow. you make me cry. thanks.
Barbara,This morning my telephone rang. It was a lady I’d never met who read my letter to you in the Letters to the Editor section of the Trib. She lives in Batavia and was moved by your bench articles in the Trib and was reminded of them by my letter. She wanted to thank me (can you imagine my surprise?) for speaking for her in expressing how your article touched me, a reader.Of course, I knew the letter was going to be published thanks to an email from your editor, but thought it “no great shakes.” After putting down the phone with that kind lady, I called my wife at work to share my glow with her. She call the kids and then my son called me to ask me to save the original article and my letter so he could read them before our Passover Sedar on Saturday. I searched but realized the Sunday paper was long gone to the recycler, so I searched the web under your name: found your marriage annoucement and other things and then found this website.After reading “the bench my brother built” on this site, I think I want to say I rather liked the newspaper version better. However, this is the best I can do for my son: to let him read this web offering. He’ll understand my response after reading this.Thanks again for touching me. You capture life in a very special way, and now that I’ve learned a little more about you from the web, it makes even more sense as to why.Warmly,Frederick Brill