This is the time of year I dream of my garden in Technicolor. I curl up with a warm quilt draped around my shoulders, hot cocoa in my hands, and gardening catalogs stacked beside me. It's all about creature comforts as the fire crackles and the wind pushes against the windowpanes.
I feel the same about comfort outside. After I've slaved through the spring and my garden begins to produce lettuce and radishes for early summer salads, I need a place to sit and enjoy the visual fruits of my labor. Sure, there's always a patio chair, but a plastic chair somehow doesn't have the magic of a garden bench.
For years I dreamed of a bench plunked out front, close to the sidewalk for passers-by to collapse on as they stroll through the neighborhood. I wanted it to be comfortable and encourage resting. It didn't have to provide a view of my garden as much as a refuge from the world.
My refuge arrived in a large cardboard box near Mother's Day. My children crowded around, craning their necks and pushing to see the postage stamp-size picture in the corner. I hugged each of them and thanked my husband for his thoughtfulness.
My husband leaned the box against the house, and we carried on with the business of the day, knowing there would be time to assemble the bench later.
Warm spring breezes lured us into our garden, onto our bikes, and around the neighborhood. The box stood in the way of getting the bikes out of the backyard, though, and someone moved it around a corner behind the house.
I forgot about it. Everyone forgot about it.
A month later, as I was cleaning up the yard, I looked over and discovered the box, now covered in mud from rain splashing up from the garden. I couldn't read the writing or see the picture any longer. The edges had furled from the sun and sat at stiff angles from the ends of the box.
I dragged it to the middle of the patio and ripped the packaging away. My older boys crowded around as I pulled softly sanded planks of wood and gently arched metal moldings out.
"Can I put it together, Mom," asked my 11-year-old, Nelson.
"I want to help, too," said 9-year-old Alexander.
I looked dubiously at the assemblage of parts and tools. The mish-mash resembled a jigsaw puzzle. I normally trod through jigsaw puzzles with caution, gathering the straight-edged pieces first and working toward the center with a plan. I couldn't see any way to plan this out.
"Mom, look at these pictures," said Alexander. "Each board is numbered, so you know where to put it on the bench."
"And the screws and tools are all here, Mom," said Nelson.
"Right, then. This should be easy," I said, with more confidence than I had any right to feel.
I could prepare a meal, knit a sweater, help the kids with a puzzle, and still have a free hand to weed the garden. Screwdrivers, hammers, and nails, though, dwelt outside my sphere of comprehension.
But I wasn't alone in this enterprise. I had two eager children who felt the need to be needed. An hour later, the bench stood - wobbly, but upright - on the patio. Alexander sat back on his haunches with a screwdriver sticking out of each back pocket and a grin that spread from ear to ear.
Nelson, though, hovered with tools in both hands and his brows furrowed.
"Maybe if we just tighten all the screws up, it will stand better," he suggested.
So, we tightened and twisted, grunted and groaned. The screws were as tight as we could twist them, and still the bench swayed to one side when we sat on it.
"Let's just put it where you want it, Mom, and worry about it later," suggested Alexander.
We carried it to the edge of the front path. I thanked them for building my bench with me. For a moment I could see their pride in themselves and their sense of importance at their place in our family swell. I wanted to squeeze them close, but they ran off to ride their bikes.
My bench sits at the edge of my front path between my chokecherry and linden tree. I'm sure my husband tightened the screws, because it didn't wobble when I sat down to drink in the smell of roses later that day. And when my daughter and her friend dressed Barbie, giggling and swinging their feet back and forth, the bench supported their weight.
Now, my bench is a place where dreams flow, secrets are shared, confessions made, and healing begins. It is a reminder of a Mother's Day gift that was forgotten, discarded, and rediscovered. It's a wonderful place to sit, too.
Right now it's buried beneath the snow and ice, but I can still picture the people who've enjoyed sitting there each summer, chatting quietly or being contentedly silent. Once seated, no one seems in a hurry to leave.
A good garden bench will do that.