Dad’s garden bench

My Dad was a gifted carpenter.  He loved working with wood.  The same way a business consultant shares new ideas with his clients or a contemplative thinks of new approaches to the subject of God, my Dad practiced woodworking.

I’m lucky enough to enjoy one of his first creations in my house.  It’s a bookcase he built in high-school wood shop when he was about 15 years old.  It’s all cherry wood with a glossy finish.  He used no nails, only glue and wood dowels.  He made it in 1945.  Sixty-five years later it is as solid as anything in my house.

One of the last things Dad made for me is what I call a garden bench.  It’s a simple thing and not really made for an adult to sit on.  I remember him telling me it would be good for potted plants or garden tools and such.  He had someone paint the backrest to look like bird houses.  It was really cute and we enjoyed it on the back porch of our previous house for years.

Unlike Dad’s cherry wood bookcase, his garden bench wasn’t built to last sixty-five years.  I obviously love it just as much as anything else he built, but it’s been slowly falling apart while sitting in my garage.  For over a decade it’s been serving the very purpose he suggested to me; a holding place for garden equipment, pots, and other junk I’ve stacked on top of it.

I’ve been doing a massive clean-up and reorganization of my garage the past few weekends, reclaiming it as usable space rather than treating it like a three car trash hole.  As I was separating stuff I intend to keep from the trash, I eventually came to Dad’s garden bench.  Looking it over made me a little melancholy at first.  That’s understandable.  But, thankfully I haven’t mourned a great deal over my Dad’s passing.  When I dwell on my Dad’s memory for more than even a few seconds, all I can do is smile.

It was the same with his garden bench.  At first I wondered what I was going to do with it, like it was any other object taking up space.  Then I stopped and thought about how this was one of his last woodworking projects he gave me.  This thing was an example of Dad’s “wood practice”.  Throwing it in the trash wasn’t an option.  But, leaving it stuck in the garage like some useless thing didn’t seem right anymore.  Plus, it’s falling apart.  The wood he used for this bench apparently wasn’t as hard as cherry wood. And, the screws he used to put it together aren’t holding anymore.  It’s beginning to deteriorate.

But, that’s ok.  I’ve learned the value of accepting that things fall apart.  Things, people, ideas — nothing lasts forever.  I’m grateful I’ve lived long enough to understand that transience and impermanence are two of only a handful of concepts which are real and that chronic frustration or suffering comes from grasping and clinging onto things which are impermanent and soon to be gone.

I spent a few minutes being with Dad’s garden bench, observing the details, thinking about what went through his mind when he decided to add some of the small touches he did.  Some are practical and others are fancy.  He liked to do that…add something subtle, maybe a unique design element or the implementation of a practical component in a snazzy way.

I thought about how excited he must have been when he finished that bench and loaded it in the back of his pickup truck to bring it to us.  I can’t imagine anything more fun than building something in my shop and presenting it to one of my grown kids.  I intend to do that one day and it’s the primary reason I’ve been taking back control over my garage, to reinstate one corner as a shop I started many years ago.

After a few minutes of this nostalgic reminiscence  I knew exactly what I was going to do with Dad’s garden bench.  I decided to remove it from that stuffy garage so it could enjoy its final days in the fresh air and canopied sunlight of the forest.  I searched for just the right place and found it at the end of a natural path.  White-tail deer live on our place and I believe the path I found is theirs.  I placed Dad’s garden bench at the end of a lane that I hope is busy with animals when we’re not around.  It’s under a nice, big tree.  As I placed it there and had a few more thoughts about Dad and the things he enjoyed, I smiled at this final thought as I hiked back to the house; wouldn’t it be nice if one of his great-grandchildren discovered his bench under this tree in a few years and decided to have a nice sit.

Or, it might be nothing more than a pile of painted wood by then, and that’s ok, too.

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