April 11, 2008

The rest of the green bench story

After I wrote the last post about the Green Bench Secret, readers emailed me asking me asking how my family reacted when they saw it. So here's the rest of the story.

Keeping any kind of secret in my extended family is difficult, especially in the summertime when we see each other pretty often. On long summer days when our kids were driving us crazy, Blonde Sister and I used to do what we called a "kid switch." I'd drop my youngest two boys off at her house so that they could play with Blonde Niece, and in return, her oldest two daughters would come to my house to hang with my daughter and Boy in Black. This arrangement worked out for both families: kids behave so much better for an aunt than a parent.

So my kids had plenty of contact with their cousins — and most likely, their grandparents too — but none of them said anything about the green bench.

When my parents drove up to camp the next weekend, they didn't suspect a thing. They were alone when they arrived and were still unpacking their car when some long-time friends pulled in for a visit: Opera Singer and Hyper Generous Woman, a couple they knew from home who lived at their marina up in the islands during the summer. My mother and Hyper Generous Woman were happily talking and getting out some food when my father and Opera Singer walked down to the dock. Checking on the sailboat is one of the first things my father always does when he gets to camp.

My father was standing on the dock, looking over his sailboat, when Opera Singer said, "Hey, is that a new bench?"

Without even looking up, my father said, "The old green bench? That's been around a long time."

Opera Singer looked again. "Really? It looks new."

My father glanced over at the bench. Even from where he was standing, he noticed something different. Had someone painted the old bench? Replaced some slats? He walked closer, completely puzzled. The bench looked just the same, but the wood was new, the paint fresh. He examined the frame. It had been built with number 16 nails, bent over after they were pounded through, just the way he had done. We'd apparently done a pretty good job of duplicating the bench exactly, even though we'd had limited tools and had had to use a Dr. Seuss book for a carpenter's square.

Completely befuddled, my father went back up the path to call out to my mother and have her come see the bench. Since they have no telephone at camp, my parents had no way of reaching anyone in the family to ask about this bizarre puzzle. But my mother knew immediately where to look for the answer.

On the shelf in my parents' cabin are big binders filled with spiral-bound notebooks: the camp journals. All members of our family — and guests too — are invited to write in the journals as soon as they are old enough to hold a pen. Those big binders contain more than twenty years of family history. My mother pulled down the most recent journal and flipped through quickly to look at the last three entries, which were written by me, my daughter, and Shaggy Hair. And then she read aloud to the other three the story of how we decided to rebuild the green bench.

In her own journal entry, which she wrote that night, she said how pleased she was that family members would be "watching sunsets from the green bench for years to come."

Last night after I had posted the story about the green bench, I remembered that I had the camp journals in my house, that I'd brought them home for the winter. I leafed through to make sure I had gotten the date right: I had. But my daughter's entry included some details that I had forgotten, like the way Boy in Black decided to paint his feet white while the kids were putting on the primer coat, and everyone else followed his lead. (Boy in Black's crazy ideas are always contagious.)

Beautiful Smart Wonderful Daughter wrote that I didn't want the two youngest boys around while I was using the circular saw. "Dad took the boys into town to the Dollar Store to keep them away from Mom while she was using dangerous power tools. THEY RETURNED WITH SWORDS."

I do remember the plastic swords that led to some ridiculous sword fights in the middle of the project. And I had forgotten that my daughter was, at the time, in that lovely pre-puberty stage in which everything Mom does is wrong. She explained that work on the bench was hampered by "Mom screaming loudly about our faces being too close to the hammer." She noted that she was sent to the tent for a time-out during the project and added, "It's hard to know when you're being rude."

Mostly, though her entry describes how fun the project was, and how pleased we all were with the result: "And although I have white paint on my feet, green in my hair, my arms are worn, and a massive splinter has been forced out of my hand, I am glad."


Bardiac said...

What a great story. And those camp journals sound like a real treasure!

Julia said...

Those journals are a continuous time capsule. Or the beginnings of a great book.
And I am very impressed with everyone's ability to keep the secret.

jo(e) said...

Well, actually, the reason I have the journals at my house is because I'm using them for manuscript I'm working on.

Bitty said...

Camp journals. Just when I think your family can't get any cooler...it does.

kathy a. said...

the journals are fabulous! love your reporter's notes about mom and the time out. contemporaneous documentation. from someone who probably has a different memory of it now.

Sue said...

I love this story. I especially love the camp journals. We kept them at our summer camp as well.

Jodie said...

I think you will give the Waltons a run for their money

ccw said...

Thank you for posting this, I love hearing the rest of the story.

I absolutely love your family!

Mom2BJM(Amy) said...

Awesome story! What a neat green bench. Your family has the most fun - I love the way you all work together.

jackie said...

I don't have a camp, but I love the idea of camp journals! I bet they are such a treasure trove for a writer, not to mention for your family.

BerryBird said...

Those camp journals sound like great fun! How wonderful to have so many different perspectives recorded.

BlackenedBoy said...

You really should type those journals up sothat they're never lost!

That's one of the coolest things I've ever heard--and your daughter sounds uncannily intelligent, particularly given the age she was!

What is your manuscript about?

jo(e) said...

Blackened Boy: The book is about my connection to the landscape -- so a big part of it is about my parents' camp. I'll be using some of the stuff I've put on the blog, just rewriting and expanding it.

And yes, my daughter is very smart. She was always very precocious. She's a better writer and editor than I am.

Lilian said...

Wow. just wow. I always say that I want to be you when I grow up, but not it's much too late... I mean, your awesomeness goes way back to your parents and the way your family has all these wonderful traditions like the camp journals. It's OK, though, my family is different and spread all over the globe at this point, but we still have our fond memories and connection to each other.

I'm delighted to hear that you're writing about your experiences and reworking some of the wonderful writing from this blog! So, enjoy your blog-anonymity while you can because after you're published we'll all know "the real name" you, right? (or wrong -- are you going to find a nifty way of continuing it? ;-)

Anyway... about the last part of last comment, it must feel great to have a child even smarter and better than we are (that sounds very immodest, BTW). I can't wait for my sons to grow up and demonstrate that fully :-).

Silver Creek Mom said...

Camp Journals? How kewel is that? (Yes I spelled it wrong on purpose)I want a camp just to have those.
I may steal the plans for that bench. I would love something like that for my back deck. A place I can throw a canapy ove and sit and read. (Or Lay and sleep)
Just so you know your being copied. IF I ever get one done I will send you a photo.


Heidi Renee said...

Heartwarming, like I just watched a wonderful movie. It makes me want to be adopted.