93: The Velvet Bench

93: The Velvet Bench

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

The Velvet Bench

The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it isn’t simple.

~Doris Janzen Longacre

I was nervous when my goddaughter, Wendy, got engaged to Matthew. He had two young children from his first marriage, and Wendy was only twenty-two and taking on a lot of responsibility.

They both worked full-time, but neither was particularly well paid. Matthew saw a fair bit of his two boys, every second weekend and sometimes during the week as well. He paid his ex-wife maintenance for the boys, but also spent money on them when they were with him. Wendy was so blissfully happy that, to begin with, I was just happy for her.

They were only engaged a week when she announced they were moving out of their rented apartment and buying a small house. I voiced my fears about taking on a mortgage but Wendy had it all organized; she had been to see a financial advisor and knew exactly what it would cost her.

With their salaries, they got the mortgage, but it left them little other money to spend on the house itself. Matthew’s parents and my husband and I helped them decorate, and friends donated pieces of furniture here and there. Throughout it all Matthew worked all day and decorated well into the evenings, and he never once got bad tempered or complained. Wendy helped decorate, looked after the boys, and worked out all the bills. It amazed me how calmly she approached the whole thing.

The house was quite old and in time would need quite a bit of renovation. New paint and drapes made a big difference, and we helped Matthew floor the huge attic so the boys could play up there. Wendy was so happy to have a house of her own, a garden to themselves, and no noisy neighbors above and below them.

It worried me she would want to keep up with her friends who had higher paying jobs, and would rush out to buy things. Instead, she hunted through secondhand shops and yard sales. She bought some material at sale price and had a friend make her drapes.

They both had the house looking lovely on such a small budget that it brought a lump to my throat. I knew that the sofa didn’t match the drapes, and a couple of the chairs had faded a little. Here and there, a carpet would need to be replaced fairly soon. Wendy’s view was: “All in good time; we are in our own home now and that’s all that matters!”

Ten years down the road, they had restored that old house bit by bit, and replaced the worn carpets and older furniture.

I mentioned to Wendy how much I admired what she and Matthew had done. I knew that some of her friends had big new houses with up-to-date furniture. I told her I admired the way she had not tried to compete with them.

Wendy shrugged and said, “Just as we were thinking about buying a house, I read an old French proverb and it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was as if it was talking to me,” she explained. “It said, ‘A throne is only a bench covered with velvet.’

“Matthew and I often used to joke when we were up to our knees in old floorboards, or up to our elbows in paint — one day we will wrap that old bench in the garage in velvet,” she said, smiling.

“About a year after we had moved in, we had this awful row, mainly my fault. It was the pressure of working all day and decorating all the time with so little money. The boys had been difficult. I just kind of exploded and I took it out on Matthew, blaming him for everything.

“He went out and I couldn’t find him. I was scared I’d driven him away. I finally found him in the garage. He was sitting on our bench, and he was in tears. I felt so terrible I just threw myself at him and told him how much I loved him. He was upset because he wanted to give me so much and he couldn’t afford it. He felt guilty that I didn’t have the things other girls my age had and he was so afraid I would leave him. We both sat and cried on that old bench and we have never argued like that again.

“We still have the old bench in the garage and sometimes we both sit down on it and take stock of how lucky we are. To me, it is covered in velvet because it’s where we both found out how much we loved each other. I don’t ever want to move out of this house, it’s as if Matthew and I are part of it and it is part of us!”

~Joyce Stark

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