Thursday, April 30, 2015


In my yard is an old cedar wood swinging bench  that Mom and I put together several years ago. She had bought it online, from one of those websites that sells unfinished furniture. Back when we had first moved to Kentucky, our house had an ancient wooden swing sitting under a massive 60 year old Maple tree. One night during a storm, a branch came down and took the swing with it. It was smashed beyond any hope of repair so it had to be thrown away.

So this one was a belated replacement. It was more rustic looking than the old one had been. Even brand new, it looked old. We read the instructions and figured out where each peg and slat and joint went for it, and then we stained it a rich honey color. It was going to go under the same maple tree where the old one had been (keeping our fingers crossed for no more falling limbs), and as we stood in the garage looking at the bench we realized that we really should have put it together under the tree. Mom's yard was divided by a series of fences, with a 4' tall picket fence that served as a dog pen that extended from the back of the house, to the shed, and finally joining back up to the house at the corner of the laundry room. We would have to hoist the bench over that fence at the side and the back and then carry it over a ditch in order to get it to the tree.

Mom was a lot stronger back then, still determined and tough, and all her years of caring for her three acres of land had given her a wiry strength that was belied by her small stature. So between the two of us we managed to hoist the damned bench and its frame over the two sections of fence and the ditch until we finally had it under the tree. We set it up, victorious, and sat ourselves down to enjoy our hard-earned rest. It was a beautiful day, not yet unbearably hot and the wind made the maple leaves rustle and the wind chimes in the trees around her garden ring. I knew it meant a lot to Mom to be able to do these things more or less on her own. She and my father had finally separated, and she was determined that she could get by without needing his help. She needed my help with a lot of things, but the important part was that she didn't need him.

The swing sat unharmed by tree limbs for years. Even after a storm brought down a huge branch almost on top of it. Like Mom, it weathered everything that it was exposed to. Harsh winters and hail and howling storms that pulled so much around it apart left it untouched.

After Mom died, the bench was something I knew I needed to take with me. We won't be able to keep her house. There's too much debt left behind for us to do that. It was the only asset she had and so it will need to be sold to pay for the financial and legal mess that my father left her in after their divorce. So the creaky old bench needed to be re-homed, and my back yard was the best place for it.

Moving it here was easier. This time I had Adam to do the heavy lifting, and his pickup truck to transport it with. We set it up in front of one of my flower beds, across from the arbor we got married under. Mom was the one who gave me away at our wedding. She walked with me from my back porch steps to the arbor, where Adam was waiting for me. She kissed us both and told us that she loved us. She was as much a mother to Adam as she was to me in our years together, and she was happy to see us getting married.

The bench creaks now. It's no longer honey colored, but has gone dull and weathered. Lichen grows along the wood in a map of green and grey. Sitting here makes me think of that day, dragging the bench over the fences and through the ditch, both of us exhausted but proud of how we'd done it by ourselves despite her health problems and my increasingly bad knees. Everything she could do back then was a victory, a sign that she was still standing despite it all. Her still being alive for my wedding was a miracle. I regret that she will never know any children that Adam and I have, but one day I will sit with them on this bench and tell them about her. How much she meant to me and how much she would have loved them. At some point I'll have to scrape off the lichen and re-finish it so that it lasts long enough for that. The things that were hers are things I feel protective of now, as though through preserving them I can somehow preserve her memory a little better. I know they're just physical objects, that the memories I have in my head are worth far more, but they remind me of her and everything that she faced and overcame. Even something as simple as an old wooden bench holds so many reminders.

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