Native Son: Just a Little Garden Bench

I was visiting a private garden one day, accompanied by two busloads of other garden writers—ironically, each of us trying to get photos of the garden with no one else in it. Amidst the flurry of clicking cameras and botanical small talk, I saw a woman sitting by herself on the porch. She sat quietly, watching the civil commotion of a hundred and fifty fervid people moving like polite cattle through her garden. I assumed it was her garden, as she wore no name badge and held no camera, and clearly was in a different mindset than the rest of us. I approached her and thanked her for allowing our herd of wordsmiths to explore her little piece of paradise.

She said the pleasure was hers, and she considered it a gift that so many people found such pleasure in her garden. Her word choice struck me as a little funny…not an “honor” or a “compliment,” but a “gift.” She continued to survey the scene before her, and I wondered if I might be actually be bothering her with my attempt at politeness, so I decided to bow out gracefully with another quick thank you as I turned away.

I almost tripped over a beautiful little garden bench made of stone. It was simple, yet sophisticated in its design. I couldn’t help myself. I turned and said to her, “Now that’s an amazing bench!”

Photo by Steven Chamblee.

My comment obviously hit some sort of emotion within her, as her countenance changed perceptively. She took a pensive moment, then smiled and said, “Thanks. I made that bench.”

Without thinking, I said, “No way.”

She shook her head a bit, smiled and said, “Way.”

“That’s incredible,” I said. “Is there a story behind how you made it?”

She turned her eyes from me, looking back toward the garden. Her hand reached up to cover her mouth and her eyes began to well up. “Yes, there is a story…I’m just not sure you want to hear it.”

I told her that stories are the most important part of my life. As a writer, everything and everyone is part of a larger story, like the bricks of a cathedral…each one is important.

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She paused a bit, then looked straight at me. “For twenty-five years, he told me I was ugly, that I was useless, and I was worthless. Told me that every day. Every day…even on Christmas.”

My guts turned over and my eyes got blurry. I tried to get some words together but could not. She continued.

“Finally, after twenty-five years, I found the courage to leave. It was the bravest thing I’ve ever done. Packed up the car and left. No note, no nothing.” She took a deep breath, “And the worst part was that I couldn’t even tell my family. I knew he would eventually extract my location from them and come and get me.”

“I drove until I got to a little suburb of Philadelphia that seemed nice. I found a duplex and rented half of it. The woman in the other half worked stone and had little sculptures around the back yard. My very first morning there, I was looking at the sculptures and she came out with coffee for both of us. I told her that I loved her work, and I wished I could do something like that. She smiled at me and said, ‘Of course you can.’ I almost cried at the thought that someone had faith in me and I told her how I got here.

“Half an hour later, after repeated attempts to tell her I needed to unpack, I stood at her workbench wearing a leather apron, a big facemask, and heavy gloves, grinding away at a chunk of granite. By mid-afternoon, we were at the stone yard, picking out materials. Just before 9pm, we set the seat slab on top and it was finished. It was incredible. Building that bench changed the way I saw life…and myself.”

By now, the garden was empty and I could hear the busses revving up to leave. As the bus captain circled the garden, rounding up the strays, she told me, “I sit on my bench every morning, and it reminds me that I am not ugly, and I’m not useless, and I’m not worthless.”

Photo by Neil Sperry. Image by God.

I gave her a hug and thanked her for her story. I snapped a photo of the bench and ran for the bus. I didn’t get many photos of the garden, I don’t remember the town, and I never even got her name…but I will always remember her story and the miracles that can happen when someone has faith in you.


I need a road trip! Let me know if you’d like me to come and speak to your group sometime. I’m low maintenance, flexible, and you know I like to go just about anywhere. No city too big; no town to small. Just send me an e-mail at and we’ll work something out.

Come out and see me at Chandor Gardens! Located in the heart of Weatherford’s Historic District, Chandor Gardens is the perfect place to get away and enjoy the simple pleasures of life that can only be found in gardens. Call 817-613-1700 or visit for details.

Posted by Steven Chamblee
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