The Deacon’s Bench
This is a true story…word for word (names changed to protect the innocent)
I was at a loss for words.
Could it be true? I turned to look at my friend but he was looking up at the windows and appeared as bewildered as I felt.
The windows were covered in dirty old newspaper. The store was out of business! Someone had hastily pasted the old sheets up, but when I leaned in closer, I could see into the little room.
Empty — except for pieces of discarded wood scattered about the floors. Paint peeled off the walls that once held beautiful wooden pieces and mirrors. A small light dangled in the far corner and added to the loneliness of the room. The room looked so empty, so bare.
My bewilderment turned into jubilant laughter. I started to laugh until it was hard to breathe. And then the tears came.
How could he put me through this?
How could he make me feel so sinful, so dirty?
I was pushed to the edge and did something completely out of my element only to discover that it was all for naught. He had gone bankrupt. He was out of business.
The store was closed forever.
Looking around my small home I often felt frustrated at having no space. As soon as you walked in the front door, you were stepping over shoes and hats, a child’s coat that fell to the floor; perhaps the dog was even lying in the front entry, eager to greet you.
Each day I returned home to my little place, I both admired my new home, but also missed the expanse of my last house.
It was a house of marriage, this was a home of separation.
It fit my two young children and me barely, with my older brother living in the basement. We shared the common kitchen and I would often return home to my brother eating dinner in my living room. My dining room served as the kids play area and my office. We were literally spilling over each other.
But I did enjoy the emotional closeness that the physical closeness offered us.
It was on one of those frustrating days when I tripped into the front way and dropped my beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers I had bought at the market. They went smashing down to the floor, breaking each stem cruelly. I picked up my shattered flowers and screamed, “That’s it!”
The dog looked up apparently sensing my anger and he strolled back to my daughter's bedroom to seek refuge.
That afternoon, I aired my complaints to my mother, when she — ever so motherly like — suggested I buy a deacon’s bench to help clear up the clutter.
A brilliant idea. I agreed.
The very next day on my return walk from work, with my head still foggy after a long day of lectures, I stumbled upon just the perfect bench. I couldn’t believe my luck! It was solid pine with a pretty country heart. I rushed inside and hurried up to a man to ask how much was the lovely piece.
“$79.99” he gruffly replied without even looking up.
Wow, that was right within my price range. I couldn’t believe my luck! But would it fit in my humble foyer? He gave me the dimensions and I nearly ran home to measure the space.
I yelled into the phone, “It’ll fit!” to which my mother had no idea of what I was talking about. “I found the perfect bench to solve all my problems!”
Well, not all of them, but it was a start.
The next day I waited patiently in front of the store until it opened and I was greeted by a middle-aged woman who looked like she hadn’t yet had her morning coffee. She introduced herself as Mary and started back to the other side of the store.
“That bench, the one that was outside yesterday, I want to buy it.” I stammered. She looked at me quizzically but then it seemed that a light went off in her mind, and she moved toward the piece.
“This one?” she asked, half-heartedly.
“Yes, yes that’s the one. I’d like to buy it” I anxiously replied.
“Sure, no problem, what colour would you like it stained?” she inquired. I was taken a little by surprise, “Oh, I don’t know. What colours do you have?”
She led me over to the colour board and I accepted her opinion.
“It’ll take a few days. It’ll be ready by next Thursday” she said, with eyes focused on some other project in the distance.
“Wow, a whole week,” I thought. Well, I had lived without it for over four months since I moved into my new home so I agreed. I gave her a small deposit of ten dollars and promised to bring the remaining money the following day.
It was over the lunch hour the next day that she issued me a receipt for the entire cost of the bench and I nearly skipped home that day in anticipation.
I felt like a young school girl awaiting her first issue of Nancy Drew in the mail or sitting by telephone waiting for that somebody to call.
The days went by like molasses, until finally on Wednesday, the day before I was to receive my bench, I could wait no longer and hoping they may have it completed early I bounced into the store eager as a school girl.
Mary was nowhere in sight. Only the gruff man sitting solemnly over a table of papers, frowning and every once and awhile letting out a grunt. I tentatively approached him and meekly asked if my bench would perhaps be completed. He looked up from his papers and with a hollow stare he barked that it would not be ready for another week.
My heart sank.
I felt tears well in my eyes.
I swallowed hard and was about to retreat when I saw my bench in the back room. I would recognize it anywhere, sitting proudly with a fresh stain, ready to be taken home.
“Isn’t, but isn’t that my piece right there?” I timidly asked.
“No, that’s not yours. It belongs to a businessman downtown. He ordered it before you.”
What do you mean he ordered it before me?
My mind was searching, my head was swimming with questions.
“But sir, mine was not a custom-made piece. It was just the one that was displayed on the front sidewalk.” I managed to squeak out with a tight throat.
“You have your receipt?” he asked as if half hoping that I didn’t.
I produced it proudly.
He glanced at it quickly and barked “Well, I’ll just give you your ten dollars back.”
I reminded him that it was $79.99 at which point he interrupted and shouted, “It should have been $119.00.”
Now I was getting really upset.
I could feel my blood rushing to my face and my knuckles were white holding the receipt.
I reminded him of our first meeting and nearly choked over my words that I would be back for my bench the next day, the day it was actually due.
The next day, I stepped into the store ready for battle.
But I was confronted not with the big burly man, but his quivering assistant, Mary.
I inquired about my bench. Through old eyes, Mary apologized on her boss’s behalf and even sided with me to report him to the BBB. She begged to give him a second chance and wait just the extra week.
Well, she had calmed my anger and I agreed to forgive him, and wait till the following Thursday to claim my beloved prize.
I left the store like a dog with his tail between his legs.
The week went by quickly, what with me tripping and stumbling over shoes and hats and children’s coats, not to mention the dog.
It was a cold day when I returned to the store.
I could not believe my ears when Mary saw me coming and yelled from across the store, “What, he didn’t call you?”
This had to be a joke; a sick, cruel joke. With my dreams smashed, I asked for my money back. I thought I saw Mary shiver under my glare. She reluctantly went to the back of the store and emptied the cash drawer to display some dimes and nickels and other rolled up coins.
“Where is my money?” I demanded.
Mary danced around me like a scared puppy. I put my foot down and through clenched teeth, I spit at her, “I will be back at the end of the day, at which time you will either produce my bench or return my money.”
I turned on my heels and marched out of the store.
With reluctance and a bit of nervous energy, I opened those store doors again later that same day.
The look of pure fear on Mary’s face was enough to tell the whole story. “Mary, where is my bench?” I demanded.
She stammered for a response, but before she could open her mouth I spoke, “Where is my money?” Again the same expression on her face.
It was at this point that something inside me snapped.
I was not the calm, collected mother of two, who had recently survived a separation and bounced back on her feet to a new life and a new career in a new city.
I was an irrational beast.
I was angry at the world.
I was tired of being treated like a nobody.
I was tired of being stepped on!
In my blind rage, I picked up two telephone tables and began to walk out of the store.
“No, no, please don’t take those” Mary began to sob, “I’ll lose my job. Those are custom made for another customer. Please, I beg of you, don’t take those” she pleaded through tired tears.
Something of my former self shone through and I gently set the pair down.
Relief flooded Mary’s face, but it was washed over with disbelief as she watched me grab for the mirror on the wall.
“You tell your boss that I will take this mirror marked $79.99 in lieu of my bench. Good day.” And I defiantly walked out of the store.
I must have looked like quite the site on that cold day, mirror in hand, stomping down the main street, a look of determination on my face.
It was not until I arrived home, tripped over the shoes and hats, and children’s coats that I really began to cry.
I did not want the mirror.
I wanted my bench.
I did not want to take something that was not mine.
I wanted my bench.
I cried until my mother picked me up off the stairs and reassured me that I had done what I felt was right.
It was Sunday evening when I returned home from a weekend away, that I listened to the message. To my horror, the recording had been made Friday evening, long after I had packed up the kids and the dog and left the city.
“Oh hi there it’s Mark Watson from Watson’s Wood Furniture calling. I was talking with my employee, Mary, and I heard what kind of spectacle you put on today. If that mirror isn’t back in the store tomorrow I’ll be phoning the local police department and I will be having you charged with theft. That doesn’t belong to you. You have money down on a special order. The fact that you wouldn’t come talk to me, that you had her crying, that you treated her like an animal, um, I can’t accept that. I’ve never, I’ve been in sales and business for over 20 years. You’re the worst piece of work I’ve ever seen and you have no respect for people and their attitudes. So I think a theft charge would look real good on you. So you better bring that in. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll just, uh, by noon or 1:00 tomorrow, I’ll just call the local police department. You will be charged with theft. You did take something that didn’t belong to you!”
The knot in my stomach made it impossible to sleep that night.
It was decided that I should do the noble thing and return the mirror first thing Monday morning.
I asked a friend to join me as I was too intimidated and too ashamed to go on my own. What had I done? Why had I acted out of my anger? How could I have upset poor Mary so? What sort of person was I?
I rounded the corner, knot in my stomach, heart in my throat. And that’s when I saw the newspapers in the windows.