Our old telephone bench still speaks to me

I wish I could call it a collectible, but that's too highfalutin for the green vinyl hunk of furniture squatting in our family room. "Nostalgic" is fitting, and "ugly" is generous.

But however I tag it, the "gossip bench" is here to stay. Too many memories surround it to cast it aside.

Mom bought the gossip bench in 1956, back when telephones had cords, stayed put, and were answered by people. Telephones were shaped like telephones, too, not like Mickey Mouse and footballs.

Mom remembers the day she paid $9 for it, because it was the first time she'd spent Dad's money without consulting him. But then Dad had never listened to Aunt Francis for 30 ear-rippling minutes, so how could he have appreciated the necessity of a gossip bench?

The rest of us certainly did. From the minute Mom hauled it home and put the telephone on it and the directory in the niche below, our bodies were parked in it. The nifty padded seat lifted to reveal a hiding hole for magazines, toys, and, ultimately, mildew.

Overnight, the gossip bench became our favorite seat, our social-planning center, our companion for good and bad news.

I can still picture my older sister Rosie camped for hours on the gossip bench after threatening the rest of us with bodily injury if we touched the dial while she awaited her sweetheart's call. They're divorced now, but the gossip bench is as stout as ever.

I soon learned that I didn't need to eavesdrop to know what the gab was about; I merely had to read the body language of the person on the gossip bench. If Mom was sitting upright, then it was important news - someone in the family was having marital woes or was coming to visit. The latter meant that soon we would be vacating the gossip bench and attaching ourselves to a broom and dust rag.

If an older sister sprawled on the gossip bench with dangling legs and one hand twisting the phone cord nearly out of its socket, then another romance was abloom.

If Mom was settled down with one knee drawn up and painting her toenails, then Aunt Francis was on the line. Mom kept an emery board and a bottle of cherry-red polish in the niche for just such calls.

Sometimes the gossip bench worked in our favor when my sisters or I needed permission to go somewhere or to do something. With Mom anchored on the gossip bench, she couldn't protest loudly enough (or so we claimed) for us to hear.

Most of the chairs at our house had a short lifespan. The tipsy floral rocker landed in the rummage pile after it dumped an old uncle, and the divans eventually gave way from too many growing girls. But the gossip bench defied all of us to wear it down.

Recently, though, Mom sniffed mildew inside the storage hole and declared that the bench was going.

I grabbed it and plunked a bottle of fingernail polish in the niche.

I can't wait for a windy aunt to call.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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