On This Bench


They missed it, they overlooked it or they simply thought it was not worth the effort. The handmade wood bench sat under the kitchen table on the side closest to the door. The thieves had kicked open the locked door and entered the empty house at night through the living room.

This room was actually the log house that was built in 1875. The construction of the log home had been an upgrade from the dugout near the stream and that in itself had been a step up from the wagon bed. The logs had been cut with an axe from the scattered post oak trees that dotted the bluestem grass along Denton Creek.

The crooks scattered the family pictures, knocked over an end table, and tracked mud across the wood floor. They moved down the hall into the bedroom, ripped quilts from a trunk and nailed them over the windows. They didn’t want anyone to see as they tore through the 140 year old home.

They broke into the old upright piano, tossing hymnbooks aside and kicked the piano stool across the room. Once they made it to the kitchen they had their system of search and destroy down to a fine art. Pie-safe doors were snapped off, kitchen cabinets were emptied with the sweep of an arm and the bench was used as a foot stool to search the top shelf. Grabbing what loot they thought would resale they left through the kitchen door driving a boot toe through the screen.

There were footprints in the mud down to the county road and tire tracks leading up to the asphalt. My brother-in-law found the evidence feeding hay after dark. Something told him things weren’t right and leaving the tractor idling by the road he walked up to the scene by flashlight. What probably took them only minutes to ransack had taken a family 140 years to build. But they left the bench.

The bench had been made with tools from a carpenter’s trunk – tools that had earned a living and earned the money to move an emigrant family from the east coast to fresh land in north Texas. The bench had been made to accommodate a growing family.

It had been painted many times, the last color was a light blue and much of that had been worn off. As she sat in the kitchen that night, while we surveyed the damage and tried to tell the Sheriff what was missing, my wife ran her hand across the smooth bench top. On that bench her family had made plans to clear land, drawn out the map of the orchard and discussed their dreams.

On that bench new immigrants learned English and first generation Americans learned to read, studied for school and learned about God. Sitting there family members had prayed before meals, during storms, for someone’s safe return and more often than not for rain. On that bench marriages were announced, babies were rocked and problems were solved.

On that bench boys talked to grandma and mom before leaving for World War I, World War II, Korea and Viet Nam. On that bench family members packed relief boxes to ship to family in Europe following each World War. On that bench the first generation to go to High School waited on a bus and the first generation to go to college waited on a ride.

It was on that worn, old bench that fathers waited on babies to be born, discussed the price of cattle, decided who to vote for and figured out what bills could be paid. Through dozens of Christmases, Thanksgivings, birthdays, funerals, weddings and homecomings the bench witnessed a family’s life. On that bench boys were scolded for trapping skunks and bringing the pelts in the house.

On that bench Grandma watched as work men ran wires for a phone and to electrify the house. On that bench my wife’s grandfather wondered why anyone would want a bathroom in the house and on that bench he decided to sell his last team and get a Farmall. On that bench doctors from Bowie sat with the family and revealed their diagnoses of whooping cough, measles and diphtheria.

Good news, bad news, big decisions and everyday discussions flowed across the kitchen table from that bench. Dozens of bib overalls, illfitting church pants, khaki uniforms and hand-made dresses had kept the top worn smooth. When they worked their way out the nails had been pounded back in and someone had added a cross piece to tighten the bench up as the wood dried and cured. The bench had moved from the cabin to the kitchen as the lean-to was enclosed. It had sat under a hand-made table, a linoleum table and a new table with removable leafs. On that bench the family had endured prejudice for speaking German, they had listened to their children speak English and they had learned to adjust. On that bench dozens of children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins had learned about life, cried, laughed, sang and talked their way through 140 years. The bench had seen it all and the thieves had not seen the bench. That night, on that bench, my wife ran her hand on the smooth top and cried.

We live in a wonderful place, a beautiful state and a tremendous nation. We are fortunate to live in the country on family land. We are able to call the shots, make a living and raise our kids as we see fit. We have good neighbors and a strong community. We are blessed. Yes, sometimes we start to believe that nothing bad can happen but really we are not that naive. The thieves had read about Aunt Evelyn’s death in the paper and knew the house was empty. We live in the country but we are not isolated or immune from crime. We still pray for rain, for protection from storms and for the safe return of our loved ones. We need to continue to pray for deliverance and protection from evil. I think sometimes what is really important is not always the most valuable material procession but simply anything that ties the family back together, anything that endures regardless how plain or simple. Take stock of what is important.

We spent the weekend walking through the local flea market trade days trying to find the items that were stolen from my wife’s family. Some of the older family members thought maybe the thieves really needed the money and were hungry. They needed our prayers, I don’t know. The doors were repaired, the house cleaned up and the bench is back under the kitchen table ready, with God’s help, for another 140 years.

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