Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Where a House Becomes a Home

Bennett’s Furniture in McComb, Ohio has been in business since 1906. Brothers Ned and Dan Bennett had many storefronts in their little town, providing furnishings for every room to people who would drive from as far away as Toledo and Lima to shop with them. I just learned today that they were closing their doors soon. Just the thought of that made me sad...and learning the news brought a flood of memories to my mind. I didn’t know the Bennett brothers...I just know what they did for my parents.

I was born in Greensboro, North Carolina nearly 60 years ago. (I remember when my mother was 60, I thought she was so old...but these days it looks younger all the time!) My daddy was a minister and I was raised in the South before he made me be a Yankee. (Technically, it’s the midwest, but as far as this mountain girl was concerned, it was Yankee territory!) As a Quaker minister, Daddy served churches in North Carolina and Virginia, before becoming a Methodist as part of the Holston Conference. (Little did I know that I’d be married to a District Superintendent in that same conference many years later...)

Holston Conference provided parsonages for their ministerial families to live in while serving their churches. The houses were many different styles and sizes and the “Parsonage Committee” was always in charge of making sure things were just right before, during and after a pastor’s tenure. Mother was one of those ministers’ wives who always left the house cleaner than she found it, so Parsonage Committees liked her a lot! She taught me well and I’ve tried to do the same in each parsonage we lived.

The parsonages were completely furnished. My mother never let us put our shoes on the sofa, chairs or coffee tables. We weren’t allowed to eat anywhere except the kitchen or dining room because she said it wasn’t our house, and we needed to be careful. I grew up only knowing about four pieces of furniture that belonged to us...twin beds and nightstands that my sister and I shared. Our parents bought them for us at a little store in Abingdon, Virginia. They were used...but they were ours!

Plus, we owned an upright freezer that Daddy bought brand new for Mother when I was in first grade. She sure was proud of that freezer and kept it stocked with food that the church folks would share with our family!

I was nine years old when my father accepted an appointment in the West Ohio Conference of the Methodist Church (we weren’t United Methodists until the late 1960’s) and moved our little family to the village of McComb, Ohio. We drove all night long to get to our new home. I fell asleep in Virginia and woke up in northwestern Ohio...seeing flat land everywhere I looked. This was nothing like I’d grown up enjoying, but I soon learned that living in the ‘flatlands’ was easier when riding my bicycle!

We arrived at 315 West South Street in a black 1957 Chevrolet Impala pulling a rented trailer behind it. Our dog was on the floorboard in the back seat with my sister, my cousin and me. My mother and aunt were in front with Daddy who drove the whole way. (He was the only one that didn’t have to take a turn holding the bird cage that my parakeet, Pete, was traveling in.)

A nice man from McComb Methodist Church met us in the driveway, took us in the house and showed us around. That place was like a castle to me! It had fourteen steps in a stairway that curved at the top between the first and second floors, a basement, laundry room, one bathroom, a stove, refrigerator, washer, and TWO telephones...but it didn’t have any furniture.

The nice man asked Daddy when the truck with the rest of our belongings was expected to arrive. Daddy told him there was no truck. Mother looked as if she'd cry any moment. We had no furniture, except for a few things that had been passed down from our grandparents...the freezer and our twin beds. Daddy explained to him that parsonages down south were furnished, so we were in a bit of a fix.

That nice man smiled, picked up the phone, made a call, then turned to my parents and invited them to go downtown with him to Bennett’s Furniture Store. He had made arrangements with the owners that would allow my parents to get what we needed for overnight, then shop for everything else the next day. I wish I could remember that nice man’s name. My parents were allowed to pick out everything we needed with a small down payment and monthly payments until the furniture was paid for. All the furniture was used, except for mattresses and boxed springs. It was all so beautiful to us! And it was ours.

I’ll never forget the delivery men placing the sofa in our living room. I looked at Momma and asked, “Is this ours?” She told me it was.

Then I asked, “Can we put our feet on this furniture?”

She looked at me and a big smile came on her face! “Yes! Yes we can!”

The next thing I remember is Mother hopping onto that sofa in her pretty cotton dress, propping her feet and all! I was nine years old and that moment is as clear in my mind as if it just happened!

My parents purchased what we needed from the Bennett that is still in our family today. My daughter and her husband have my parents’ dining room suite. They also have the maple bedroom set that I grew up with. There are chests and chairs, tables and mirrors that came from that wonderful store, being put to use by members of my family and extended family.

I’m very thankful for two brothers who allowed a couple they didn’t know to come into their store and pick out items that made our house a home. They provided places where wonderful memories were made...many tears were shed...but most of all, where a family had something to call their own. They probably had no idea how much that meant to us, but when I look at the pieces I have, I’m grateful for Ned and Dan Bennett once again. And for the nice man who made the arrangements that day back in June of 1963.

Businesses like theirs are getting to be too few for my tastes. When I need something, I do my best to shop right here at home in Cleveland, Tennessee. I want the family businesses to be blessed and I hope you want the same...

I always end my blogs with this reminder: “If you have a pulse, then you have a purpose. Make your life count!”