The bench

“Seated here in contemplations lost, my thought discovers vaster space beyond, supernal silence and unfathomed peace”
Giacomo Leopardi

The past is our definition. We may strive, with good reason, to escape it, or to escape what is bad in it, but we will escape it only by adding something better to it.
Wendell Berry

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(remnants of a red cedar picnic bench / Julie Cook / 2015)

Fifty years ago it came to be.
The red cedar picnic table, along with the accompanying two benches, just appeared one hot summer afternoon out back on the fenced green lawn, sheltered under the shade of the tall pine tree.
It was long before central air-conditioning.
Every window in the house was wide open.
It was cooler out rather than in.

These were the days before every home had a two, three or even four car garage.
Despite cheap gas, frugality reigned.
It was a time when everyone was home more often than away.
A time when families and neighbors would gather together outside in order to cool off, simply sharing the riches of one another’s lives.

Backyard cookouts, neighborhood block parties, a time of lazy summer days. . .
Life was delightfully slower back then.
Most moms were home, as dads were at work and the kids whiled away the hours outside.
Kick the can
Hide-n-seek
Stickball games
Collecting evening fireflies
Catching crawfish in the creek
A single voice calling out “Marco. . .”
while a handful of youthful voices echoed back “Polo. . .”

This was the time before toxic waters, child predators and electronic this and thats. .
There was no need for cell phones. . .parents knew kids would be home at dark.
High fashion consisted of tee shirts, cut offs and a new pair of keds.

Popsicles dribbled down chins,
As everyone shooed the flies aways from the platter of ice cold slices of watermelon.
Winning the seed spiting contests always went to those who still had their front teeth.
Mothers were insistent on everyone wearing their tennis shoes while youthful feet clamored to be free
“I don’t want to hear it when you get a splinter or step on a yellow jacket. . .”

A neighborhood full of youthful energy each took their places at the table, sliding onto the benches oh so gingerly so as not to rub bare legs carelessly over the red cedar wood.
“Everyone look this way and smile”. . .
As the Kodak flash cube blinked and clicked with the advancement of the film.

The paper plates were ladened with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Lays potato chips and fritos along with freshly washed green grapes. . .however it was to the ice-cream sandwiches and fudge bars that all eyes turned.
“Now ya’ll wait a while after eating–I don’t want you running around making yourselves sick. . .”
As the moms sipped iced coffee and puffed on their cigarettes.

Yet sadly, time always has a way of catching up with Life.
The children grew up and one by one, grew away.
With each passing summer there were less and less members gathered around the table.
The joyful chatter of youthful exuberance grew silent
The pine straw fell, covering the table as the benches remained empty and bare.
Abandoned and finally forgotten. . .that is until today.

Fifty years later, a lone bench is found hidden deep in the woods.
Time and the elements have each laid claim to the table and fellow bench, but the lone single bench remains much as it did—waiting and inviting any and all who might wish to sit a spell while spending a summer’s evening listening to the sound of the whip-poor-will and the distant echo of the laughter of children.

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12 comments on “The bench

  1. David says:

    Oh Julie, how I regret that our children (especially the last two) did not have the opportunity to experience childhood the way that I did. Cycling to school, cycling everywhere. The time spent outdoors – on the beach, on the rocks, exploring rock pools on the islets at low tide, playing in the old Napoleonic fort (adapted by the Germans during the Occupation in WW2). We had no TV until 1964 – and then there were only two channels. How much we have lost. It is if a generation has been robbed.

    Blessings, David

    • Thank you David—I don’t think I could think of a more magical place to grow up than the coast of Guernsey—-
      We had the picnic set when I was little. And as everyone grew up and away, it went the way of much of that time. When I graduated college and moved away, I asked mom and dad if I could bring it with me as I was desperate to have some semblance of furniture in the apartment.
      When Gregory and I met and married, it moved once again. Eventually the table and benches outlived their time with us as Gregory carried the set to some property he uses for hunting.
      We’d gone down actually yesterday to clean up around the “camp” area when I found the lone bench covered up in the woods—amazing that after all this time outside, with the brief stint in my apartment, it was still standing, albeit not for long no doubt. . .
      But it is amazing as to what warm thoughts its sight conjured back in my heart 🙂

      • David says:

        The only problem Julie is that the warm longing in my heart for Guernsey is so strong. The is a bench as you walk to a place called Pleinmont (which we use to think of as Guernsey’s version of Land’s End) where we would photograph Beth every year when we went back. It all started with one picture when she was a toddler and became a family tradition – we never could better the first photograph.

      • we just can’t go back can we David–can’t make things what they were nor can we hold on to things keeping them as they are. . .

      • David says:

        Sad but true Julie. But the memories and photographs and objects (like benches) remain with us. I’ll email you the pic of Beth – it was taken in 1998 on our first and very primitive digital camera but it is still our favourite photograph of Beth.

  2. SwittersB says:

    So beautifully written and an amazing image as well…with you every step in that nostalgic journey.

  3. Lynda says:

    Yes, it was certainly a different time! Now our young families make the effort to forge their own paths that will bring them fond memories. The activities may be different but community and relationships remain at the centre if we are intentional in making them a priority. I see that with my daughter and son-in-law as they raise their children to put people at the centre of their priorities.
    Thanks for sharing Julie.

    • YAY, I was just about to email you in order to check in on the “forced” R and R–as to how that was all going. I had not wanted to bother your as you “rested” but you must know each day has been filled full of prayers for success, recovery and healing!!!
      I’ll e-mail this evening—today is Memorial Day so we’ve been in and out–but I will soon be ready at my trusty grill 🙂
      Much love Lynda—julie

  4. My oh my did you dig up some lovely memories with this post not only for me it seems but for others as well. I was born in 1942 and I maintain that was one of the last eras of innocence this world will ever know. I’ve tried and tried to give accurate voice to what is was like growing up back then, and the best I’ve ever come up with is that my childhood was filled extraordinary people, extraordinary places, and extraordinary beauty and goodness. Thank you so much for taking me on a journey down memory lane to all those times and places and people. I’m crying as I write this because I loved it so and sadly could not even repeat it for my own child in her growing up. And unless you lived it, you just can’t even begin to understand how different the world is today. Such sweet, sweet memories to end the night with. Thank you my sweet friend for your beautiful heart and way with words. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

    • I suppose each generation has that longing sense for times past. Your’s was before an atomic bomb changed so much–my grandmother’s was before mustard gas changed so much in trenches and then her mother’s was before a civil war pitted brother against brother in a conflict that nearly broke this country’s back—I suppose looking back to a time when we each felt safe and secure is something sure—the future, not so much—didn’t mean to make you cry—-I always miss what was and what I know longer have when things like a bench triggers it all—missing my mom, my grandmothers, my own innocence—-life just seems to get more tough the older we become—in lots of different ways. . .
      nostalgic cookie

      • That’s it right there! It was a world that we could feel safe and secure in. Oh, not to worry about the tears, I cry way too easily all the time and like you said everything you said triggered sweet, sweet memories. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

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