Posted by: lialeendertz | September 7, 2011

Alison’s bench

The bench and table, looking very at home on my veranda

Here is a nice thing. Well it’s a sad thing, followed by a nice thing. A few months ago my step-gran, Alison, died. There was no great drama or heartbreak. She was 91, and had always been very matter-of-fact about life and death (to give you a measure of the woman, she told several people who visited her at her death-bed to ‘go and do something useful’). She wanted it to be over nice and quick when her time came, and it was, relatively, so we had to be pleased for her.

We didn’t have a proper funeral as she donated her body to science, and science took it, so about 70 friends and family gathered in the golf club near St Andrews where she played golf with her friends, and people stood up and talked about her, and what she meant to them. I liked this. It meant I stood up, whereas I never would have felt it my place at a proper funeral. And I made people laugh by using the word ‘spiky’, which she was: I remember her poking me in the ribs many times but I don’t recall a hug. But I also got to say that she is the person I have received and written more letters from and to her than anyone else in my life, and got a murmur of recognition from the assembled company. She was interesting and interested, highly intelligent and a bit fierce, someone who showed you they loved you through practical help and a keen, ever-present interest in what you’re up to.

People always call gardening an older persons’ pastime as if that should put younger people off. But if you are a youngish person who enjoys gardening (I am very aware that I am fast approaching the age where I have to stop calling myself young, but she was 91, come on…), it gives you a beautifully direct line of communication. You may not be interested in the availability of primary-school places in the north Bristol area, and I may not be interested in Jean’s broken hip, but we are both interested in how to get our dahlias to flower for a bit longer, and we both have an opinion on what pest might have done *that* and what to do about it. Gardening was one of the places where Alison and I met.

So when I saw that her garden bench and table were on offer I rather jumped at them, partly because I thought it would be a nice way to remember that link, although mainly because I had the perfect spot for it, and have been wanting a bench for my verandah. Being ‘step’ I didn’t want to make a bid for an heirloom, and a bench seemed about right. And then, a couple of weeks after I took delivery, my step-dad found this on clearing out the house.

It was tucked into a pamphlet on seed growing from ‘The Tropical Library’ (Alison spent much of her young married life in Malaysia working in family planning) along with a beautiful packet of Bartonia aurea seeds (no idea). It’s a picture of Alison’s mother, aged about 50, perhaps. She is leaning on the bench, and in the background you can see the table. I have accidentally ended up with an heirloom, or at least, a very fine bench indeed.



  1. What a lovely way to remember someone who was special to you.

  2. What a beautiful blog – I can just imagine what Alison was like. I’ve also got garden paraphernalia inherited from long-gone grandparents, aunts and uncles – I’m very fond of it all.

  3. Strange how the picture makes the thing mean more somehow…I guess that’s what they mean by provenance on those antiques shows.
    I like the sound of your step-gran…She sounds un-sentimental, and I find that fabulously refreshing. I have a friend (also, quite a bit older) who always shuts me up by waving her hand in my face and saying “It’s all algorithms darling”.
    Anyway, what I meant to say is, it’s a beautiful bench.

  4. Seeing the bench in your first picture, I would never have been able to guess it is as old as the second picture shows it to be.

    Was it green when you brought it home or have you painted it? Will you frame the picture and hang it on your wall?

  5. How lovely. One of those rare happy comings together that is deeply satisfying. I look fwd to eating my lunch on it next photoshoot

  6. Both look quite Victorian, I love the old cast iron work from that period. Its a lovely story, and I can really feel your sense of attachment to her in your writing. I doubt they could have found a better home.

  7. That’s rather lovely – heirloom or not because I’ll wager a shilling you’ll sit on that bench many times and smile.

    We have a bench in our garden which was in my MIL and FIL’s porch in Darlington – which we brought down south when my MIL went into the care home in Wakefield. It’s a poignant reminder of happier times and gets us over (with a smile) the sad ones we’re experiencing nowadays re her slow decline.

  8. Thanks for telling us about your step-grandmother. She and I have a similar philosophy about life and not life. Wish I had known her, too.

  9. Lovely, thoughtful post – in my case I inherited my Dads’ Felco secateurs, which are a bit past in now, but I wouldn’t part with them.

  10. What a wonderful way to remember your step-gran.

  11. The perfect heirloom for the perfect spot.

    I have my Little Granny’s fork (she was little and my granny and we’re not very good at nicknames in my family) and I htink of her every time I use it.

  12. That is just lovely

  13. I was really touched by the end of this story. I have a clock from the Liver Building and a picture of Young Nelson to remember my parents by. Strangely, when I was feeling down the other day, the song ‘My Prayer’ which is easily 70 years old, came on the radio. It was Mum’s favourite song. Your family is always with you – you just dont always see it.

  14. Alison – Thank you

    Kevin – I’ve also got a load of terracotta pots from my grandad’s old shed. Very aware that they will not last forever though.

    Laetitia – yes, spot on about the provenance thing. Just imbues it with more meaning.

    Esther – It was that lovely shade of green when I brought it home, matching the table. It’s probably the sort of shade I would have painted it if I’d had to so that’s another nice thing. Framing is a good idea, or it will get lost in the chaos.

    MarkD – I’m not sure I’ll let you. It is an heirloom. I’ll find you a small stool to perch on.

    Zoe – Thank you, what a nice thing to say. Yes, it seems like the right place for them.

    VP – oh that’s sad, but also nice. There is something about benches…

    Martha – the lovely thing about the ‘funeral’ was seeing just how many friends she had, some much younger than her and quite recent, pretty good going for a 91 year old. So she probably would have liked to meet you too.

    Elaine – How nice. You know you can get them serviced, dont you? Would be worth spending some money to keep them going. No reason why they shouldnt last and last.

    Ronnie – Thank you

    Dawn – it’s almost nicer than getting a vase or a painting or something, I reckon. These things that you casually use often, just giving a little reminder. Very nice.

    Jo T – Thank you

    Janet – to be honest she’d kind of do my head in if she was always around! But yes, nice to have a cue to memories.

  15. That’s lovely. I recently had a friend that died and the family thrust a box that she kept her sewing stuff in. I wasn’t going to take it , but now I keep my wool in it and am so glad I have it.

  16. ….in that case i’ll bring my instamatic to take the snaps with…

  17. I totally understand the gardening breaching the generation gap thing. In our community it’s an instant “in” to talk about gardening. – I think benches are the nicest way to remember those departed loved ones.

  18. Sounds like a fascinating and formidable woman. A bit like my Nan, in fact. I like the continuity represented by another gardener having bench and table. Her non-funeral funeral sounds perfect, in so much as these things ever can be.

  19. Sarah – what a nice thing, something as tactile as that.

    Mark – I’ve got a nice, sturdy cardboard box down the end of the garden.

    Claire – I suppose they make you pause a while, although since writing this I have realised I barely get to sit on it. Must try harder.

    Janet – It was nice. Very calm, sensible, no fuss, no weeping and wailing (well, a few tears from me and my brother). Just her sort of thing I think.

  20. I think you have the greatest heirloom of all – that bench could have ended up in a saleroom with no stories to tell which will go on and on for as long as it has the strength to support the ‘sitter’

  21. Bartonia aurea, commonly known as blazing star – your step-gran sounded just like that, in the nicest way. I suggest a pot of them should appear on the veranda next summer, next to the bench.

  22. Made me cry…Alison was clearly very proud of you and it seems to me you may just take after her.
    Love the bench, table and hand knit as a group..very artistic and a natural magnet for sitting at..
    The photo of this wonderful lady with her hat and coat, illustrates that she was a bit natty at putting clothes together to. Top lady!

    Lia, thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog (from a non blog lover), you, (as they say) have a ‘way with words’ and certainly touched my heart.
    Thank you, I imagine it would not have been that easy to write.

  23. Just read your blog about the green bench. Lovely way to remember someone special. By coincidence my blog is called greenbenchramblings named after a garden bench which has been with me on the 3 allotments I have gardened over the last 20 years. Please have a look.

  24. a gorgeous story! i love it when objects go on and on and acquire their own good stories. i have just a few things like this – my grandmother’s wind-up wristwatch is one of them. i’d be very happy with such a bench and table. x

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