Oct 6, 2017
Nickole Kerner Bobley
Family Tree Bench
Artist: Don Lawler
Underwriters: Village Medical Center
I felt a sense of magic when I visited the Family Tree Bench. Immediately, I thought of this fictional character Darlene, an 85-year-old spitfire, whom I blog as once a month for Avanti Senior Living, a local retirement home.
I imagined Darlene sitting on the bench — pulling vines from the bench’s giant spherical ends as if they were strands of yarn loosening from yarn balls. She was knitting them into a little green leafy-looking hat.
I bent down to examine the beautiful bench’s leaf carvings in detail. To me, the leaves on one ball represented my real family and the leaves on the other ball represented my fictitious family — the characters I’ve created over the years in my career as a writer, whom sometimes I feel great affection for, even though they are not real.
I sat down on the bench and remembered a recent Darlene’s Blog entry:
“Just answer the question Lillian! Did you or did you not knit a gorgeous lavender scarf and mitten set for donation to The Little Church on the Hill for distribution to the homeless this winter? Yes or no?”
“Yes. Yes, I did, Darlene!” Lillian replied, shaking. “We all did.”
Like a tough-as-nails police detective, I positioned my Avanti Samsung Tablet on the table so the six women at Stitch and Bitch, Avanti’s weekly knitting group, could all see it. I knew it would break Lillian’s heart to see photographic proof of what she had just been told, but it had to be done. Justice needed to be served and I was its waitress.
Exhibit A: a screen shot of a photo off Craigslist showing Lillian’s handmade knitted scarf and mitten set recently donated to The Little Church on the Hill to be distributed to a homeless woman this winter…for sale for $200.00,” I waved my hand across the screen like a game show hostess.
“What? I made that for a homeless person to keep warm this winter. Who would steal it from a church and sell it?” Lillian said as she cleaned her glasses on her pastel pink velour track suit.
“A monster,” I replied.
I showed them Exhibit B, which was a screen shot of the Craigslist knitwear set seller, otherwise known as Mr. Daniel Dish, whose wife, Ms. Candy Tillich, volunteers at The Little Church on the Hill in the — yup, you guessed it — donations receiving department.
“So, let me get this straight,” asked Curly Sue. “Candy Tillich steals the knitwear from the church’s donation bags, then has her husband — with a different last name — sell it online?”
“Bingo!” I said, as I pushed the platter of lemon bars across the table to Curly Sue, which she dug into with great enthusiasm.
The others still looked confused. So, I drilled on and on, ruling out the possibilities of two women in the same town near the same church possibly donating identical handmade lavender shade scarf and mitten sets. When some seemed to think I was being overly dramatic, grasping for straws and should perhaps just let this one transgression against humanity go, I brought out the smoking gun.
I found Mr. Daniel Dish’s Facebook page showing that he was friends with Ms. Candy Tillich. Then, I scrolled to a photo of Candy, wearing a tacky rhinestone-encrusted cross on a ribbon choker. She was holding her Teacup Pincher in the crook of her arm with her purse in the background behind her. I touched the tablet screen with my two manicured fingers and zoomed in on her purse. There it was, in all its glorious earthly realism — a portion of Lillian’s lavender hand-knit scarf peeking out of her Michael Kors handbag!
Gwendolyn gasped and quickly took her heart rate to steady herself. The Stitch and Bitches started mumbling amongst themselves, their eyes bulging out of their sockets and then they started drumming their knitting needles on the table like a tribe in a ritualistic ceremony.
“Ungodly! Ungodly!” they chanted in unison.
Then, Lillian stood up and the room fell silent. She cleared her throat and announced that she was mad — very very very very very very very very very mad. In fact, she was so very mad — probably the maddest she had ever been in her whole life — that she felt compelled to call Ms. Candy Tillich’s boss at The Little Church on the Hill and tell her how mad she was about what Ms. Candy Tillich was doing.
Like unflattering fluorescent lighting, the world was a harsh place. Some people realized this. Others, like Lillian, did not. I stepped behind Lillian, gently pushed her shoulders down (indicating she should sit back down in her chair) and then rested my head on her shoulder.
“We are not going to get mad, Lillian. (pause) We are going to get even,” I whispered, schooling my peers.
Lillian cracked a mischievous smile.
“I’m in,” she said while positioning her two knitting needles together like a gun. “That scarf and mitten set took me over two weeks to make and it’s a cashmere blend for heaven’s sake — it’s not even priced right!”
“I’m in,” said Curly Sue, who began scraping her knitting needles together like two knives being sharpened. “I’m currently corresponding with an old boyfriend in the Huntsville State Prison. I’m no stranger to danger.”
“I’m in too,” Gwendolyn said, stabbing the table’s floral centerpiece with her largest knitting needle like a dagger into the heart. “Let’s all wear black!”
I grabbed my tablet and emailed Mr. Dish a $175 offer for the lavender scarf and mitten knitwear set to see if he’d bite. Quicker than a dog to a bone, he “accepted.” Immediately, Gwendolyn passed Curly Sue a copy of the Avanti-printed newsletter and pointed to the upcoming “Restaurant Dinner Outing: California Pizza Kitchen” tomorrow night. Curly Sue pulled a pencil from her helmet of hair and circled the restaurant’s time and location, then passed the newsletter to me.
I entered, “7 p.m., outside of the lobby of the California Pizza Kitchen in Hughes Landing,” into my next correspondence with Mr. Daniel Dish, as a suggested location at which we could do our business tomorrow. Meanwhile, Gwendolyn selected Monopoly from a nearby stack of board games. She handed it to Lillian, who opened it, set the game board and player pieces aside and counted out $175 in colored paper money. Curly Sue and I grinned. And just like that, our hard-boiled plan for justice in a society flooded with corruption had begun.
I stood up, turned and looked at the art bench again. This time my mother popped into my mind. I imagined she was sitting on the bench and pulling vines from the bench’s endpoints like strings of yarn and knitting a little leafy green hat — the same one Darlene had started (my mother is actually an exceptional knitter and runs a weekly local knitting club). Then, my mother placed the finished leafy green hat on my head and POOF! we disappeared into the thick stalks below the bench.
Have you ever visited the Family Tree Bench? If so, how did it make you feel? What did you do when you were there? Did seeing this art bring up any memories or thoughts or ideas for you? Does it remind you of something? Someone? Does it make you think about something or someone in a new way? Did you experience a sudden rush of thoughts that were connected to other thoughts, or did you experience disparate thoughts and emotions?