The First Riverview Avenue Bench

It was really nothing more than a footpath, wide enough for two people to walk side by side in most spots, and in the few wider areas, possibly a third person could squeeze in without straddling the edge.

As far as Meredith was concerned, the path had always been there. Her parents had walked that path, Meredith leading the way in her stroller at first, then on her tricycle. When she outgrew those, she walked, too, always ahead of her mother and dad, always on the lookout for friends and neighbors doing the same.

Meredith was about to go into second grade the first time she heard someone discussing the possibility of paving Riverview Avenue.

No one living had any recollection of the path being named; even Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge said it was already so-called when he was a little boy, and he didn’t know who was responsible for that. Billy Dodge was 96 the summer Meredith was 7, and she had a hard time picturing her dad’s grandfather as a little boy, but surely he had been one. No one was born old.

The great paving debate of 1967 was brief, hot, and quickly squashed by the locals.

Of course, it had been proposed by a transplanted resident who simply couldn’t comprehend the history of Riverview Avenue, and taken up by other transplants who didn’t like to get mud on their shoes when they walked after a rainstorm or during spring run-off.

Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge ended that city council meeting by suggesting that anyone afraid of banging mud off their shoes ought to go back to wherever they came from, and all the locals cheered.

Meredith thought the whole idea had been a silly one. There were tons of trees along the path, and they helped keep things relatively dry. The Parks and Recreations people spread pine needles and leaves after heavy rains or run-offs. It wasn’t all that muddy in the first place; certainly no one had ever lost a shoe.  That happened to her all the time taking the shortcut to school through the empty lot where the new library would eventually go up, and no one ever brought up paving there.

Riverview Avenue had been a footpath along the scenic riverside since the town had been established back in the early days of the 19th century. Over two hundred years’ worth of walking feet had worn the path down into the well-defined rut that the locals filled with fresh soil periodically so it wouldn’t end up being feet-deep and impassible. Sprinklings of pine needles and mulched leaves and twigs gave it a springy surface. No one came home from a walk with aching feet.

Pavement? No way!

“Dat path? ‘Twas a deer trail, I reckon,” Great-Grandpa told Meredith. “My pappy tole me it was dere when he was just a sprat, an’ dat was long ago.”

“Was it Riverview Avenue then, Grampy?” Meredith asked.

“Yup, always was, I reckon. Started as a joke, Pap said. Folks’d agree ta meet on the avenue, have a walk, share a picnic. Couples fell in love dere. Like your own mama and daddy.”

Meredith loved the stories of couples falling in love while walking the avenue. She especially loved her parents’ story, since they were the first couple to put a bench beside the path in the place where they shared their first kiss.

Dad had gone to work for Parks and Recreation while he was still in High School, and he’d gone on with them until his retirement in 1999. When he married Mom in 1958, part of his job was building park benches for the county parks and the various bus stops around the towns in the county.

He devised a little plan that summer. Newly wedded and happy as a lark, he used some of his own money to purchase materials and assemble a park bench. Getting permission to place it on the path was easier than he’d expected; his supervisor was deeply romantic and loved the idea. Dad built the bench and painted it, and placed it when the time came.

On their first wedding anniversary, Dad took Mom for a walk along Riverview Avenue. They slowed their pace as they approached the place where they had shared their first kiss. It was also the place where Dad had proposed.

“Why, Alan!” Mom exclaimed. “There’s a bench here!”

“Well, let’s have a look,” Dad said.

A plaque on the bright red bench read: “First Kiss–May 3, 1955. Proposal–May 3, 1957. Wedding–May 3, 1958. What a Lucky Day!”

Of course, Mom had cried some happy tears that May 3rd of 1959. No one had ever gotten their own park bench as an anniversary gift before!

Meredith was born May 3, 1960.

No one ever believed that was a coincidence. It was their lucky day, after all.

~*~

On May 3, 1978, Meredith and her parents took a walk on Riverview Avenue, and stopped to sit on the Anniversary bench. It was still bright red; Dad painted it every spring, and it had recently gotten its annual touch up.

They spoke of memories and plans for the future. Meredith would soon graduate, and be off to college in the fall. “I have celebrated every birthday on this bench,” Meredith said. “I hope next year, I will be able to be here.”

When next year came, her parents were there, but Meredith was not. Spring break hadn’t had the consideration to fall during that week. But when she checked her mail that morning, she found a birthday card from her parents. Inside were a generous check and a photograph of the Anniversary bench.

On May 3, 1980, Meredith was home for the weekend. It had been planned in advance; school was going well, and she didn’t have a Friday afternoon class, so she’d flown in the night before.

What hadn’t been part of the plan was Dad’s sudden gallbladder attack and surgery the night before. Mom and Dad were spending their 22nd Anniversary in the hospital, and Meredith had been sent home to take their walk on Riverview Avenue without them. “Take a picture of our bench!” Dad instructed. “I didn’t take one this year, because I knew you would be here.”

It’s my birthday, Meredith thought as she neared the curve on the avenue, the one where she’d be able to see the bench on the path ahead as soon as she cleared it. I’m alone on my birthday. My parents are sitting in a hospital on their anniversary. It doesn’t feel like a very lucky day today.

Ahead of her now: the bench. Someone was sitting there. A man.

As she got nearer, she thought the man looked familiar to her; but she was sure she didn’t know him. Should she stop? Keep walking?

Why should she? It wasn’t his bench. Who was this guy, and why was he sitting on her parents’ bench?

That was silly. Anyone could sit anywhere. Yes, there was a plaque, but it didn’t actually have their name on it. None of the other benches along the avenue had names; it had happened gradually, over time, that other people had placed benches with important dates all along the river front path. Some marked wedding anniversaries. Some marked birthdates. Some celebrated a graduation date, and some even marked memorials of long lives lived.

It was traditional these days to walk the avenue and read the plaques and try to guess the names behind the dates and celebrations.

The man looked up at Meredith as she paused. “Hi,” he said. He frowned thoughtfully. “Meredith?”

“Yes.” Meredith frowned, too. “Do I know you?”

He grinned. “Roger Burke,” he said, extending his hand for a shake. “I think I was a Senior the year you started high school. I liked hearing you sing in the musicals.”

Meredith blushed. She remembered the days of hoping to run off and sing on Broadway when she grew up. Now she was working on her teaching degree. Dreams die hard, sometimes.

“I like this bench,” Roger went on. “I think it has the best location of any on the avenue.”

“It was the first,” Meredith commented.

“Do you know whose it is?” Roger asked. “I was hoping I would run into the Anniversary couple today. I haven’t managed to be here on the right day, ever, since I started being curious about the benches.”

Meredith made up her mind, and sat down.

On that day, her 20th birthday, she shared the story of the first Riverview Avenue bench.

It turned out to be a lucky day, after all.

A year later, Roger proposed to her there. Her parents, healthy and happy, were there with them, celebrating 23 years together. They cheered.

A year after that, Meredith and Roger gathered on Riverview Avenue with all their family and friends, took their vows and celebrated with the biggest picnic supper the path had ever hosted.

Late in the day, it started to rain. Shoes got muddy. No one cared.

A little rain can’t compete with a lucky day.

~*~

May 3, 2022

Mom and Dad lead the way on the walk this morning, each seated in a wheelchair, pushed along by Meredith and Roger.

The bench, now a ripe old sixty-three years old, was waiting for them, freshly painted bright red. Riverview Avenue had recently been built up with fresh soil, and the ground under the bench had been renewed as well. It would never do to let it sink into the earth.

Meredith and Roger, both only children, had let the admonition to be fruitful and multiply go to their head. Their five children, along with their spouses and a dozen grandchildren, followed along, swinging picnic baskets and toting blankets and coolers with soft drinks.

Mom and Dad were helped out of their chairs and seated on the bench. Picnic goodies were spread all around, just off the path, and when everyone was supplied with a soft drink, aluminum cans were raised in a celebratory toast. “Happy Anniversary!”

Dad smiled and raised his soda can. “Here’s to the luckiest!” he cried. “That would be us.”

“Yes,” Meredith agreed. “That would be us.” She raised her own can and sent a silent cheer to Great-Grandpa Billy Dodge, who had passed at the age of 102. He had shared the story of the benches with her, and she had no doubt he was with them still, in his own way.

Happy tears were shed, but were soon interrupted when little Mikey cried, “Okay, okay. Let’s eat.”

After some good natured laughter, that’s exactly what they did.

What a lucky day, indeed.

 

Author’s Note: This story was inspired by a photograph on Writers Unite! and their Write The Story monthly prompt. Do yourself a favor and check them out, here: Write The Story, Writers Unite!

 

 

 

 

 

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