c 2015 by Jan MacKell Collins
One day, I might yet find a photograph of the Parsons bench as it sat in my home. I find it ironic that the closest image I could find is this miniature bench, made for a doll’s house.
Many, many years ago, my friends Rob and Kathy had this bench. It was a simple little Parsons bench, hand-hewn over two centuries ago by some craftsman who merely wished to sit down. Made of cherry wood with only wooden pegs holding it together, this sturdy little chair held less than two adults. Children seemed more comfortable there. The legs and back dowels were hand turned with three rings in the center. Only the sloped arms of the bench gave it any sense of feminity, the hand rests curving gently to meet the palms.
I had never seen this bench until Rob and Kathy announced they were realizing their life-long dream of building a house. They asked if during the construction phase, would I keep the bench for them? I was reluctant at the idea of keeping someone else’s furniture, and the dilemna of where to put it in my cramped A-frame rose often. The bench finally found repose under my front window, next to the pellet stove.
Few people sat on the bench, largely due to my placing obstructing items like quilts and pillows on it. It was an antique. It was fragile. And it didn’t belong to me. So I dusted it often and moved around it carefully. When the rest of my house looked like a tribe of gypsies had moved in, the bench was kept out of harm’s way.
In the meantime, Rob and Kathy completed their house but had yet to reclaim the bench. Fate was on their side, for they woke up one night to discover their new-built house was on fire. As the family stood in the yard and watched their memories burn forever, the bench was probably the furthest thing from their minds. But it was first thing I thought of when I heard the news. How lucky, we all said later, that I had kept the bench. The family moved into a trailer far too small for them, and we assured each other that the bench would remain safe in my care until such time it could go to its proper home.
During the next few years, we lived our lives and met occasionally, always speaking of the bench and reminding each other of its presence. During that time, I experienced the break-up of a relationship that made me see things in an entirely different way. As I worked at getting my life on track, Rob and Kathy had their own miracle. Their third child was stillborn, but after fifteen minutes he was revived and grew up to be a healthy, happy and charming little boy.
Eventually, the nightmare of their burned out house faded and Rob and Kathy were able to buy a rambling 1912 farmhouse. By then, due to space restricitions, the bench had made its resourceful way to my bedroom. Not only was it useful as something to throw clothes on, it also blocked the view to the horrendous depths of my closet. Over the last seven months I had it, I learned to dance around it while remembering how fragile and special it was.
Finally the day came when, during what seemed like a random conversation, Rob casually informed me that he and Kathy were ready for the bench to come home to them.
After having the little bench in my life for so many years, I tried not to react like an adoptive parent confronted by the natural mother. But I did feel a wee bit sad as I pulled the bench out to the livingroom one evening to polish it up for the last time. I buffed it carefully, taking note of the simple wood pegs, the seat’s uneven underside and scars left by buttons and heels over the years. Even by the mellow light of the fire, the wood’s rich luster came out to smile at me one more time. Soon afterwards I wrapped it carefully in a blanket, carried it down the long set of stairs to my driveway, and tenderly put it in my jeep for transport.
Rob and I met up, fittingly, at an historic tavern nestled in the woods at a halfway point between our respective homes. It seemed like a truly historic moment. We reminisced about that five year space of time when the bench lived with me, and marveled at the way our lives had changed in such a short time. We told those around us our story, and they gathered to admire the bench before Rob carefully carried it out to his car. I penned a quick note to Kathy and thanked her for the unique memory.
On the way home, I pondered over that bench, missing it but knowing this was best, and that the bench was returning to the place where it belonged. My last thought about it was the absurd knowledge that out of the two hundred years this enchanting piece of furniture had existed, I had only known it for five of them. Nearly two decades have passed since I returned the bench, but to this day it is still the most favorite piece of furniture I have never owned.