Once in a while, I do something wise.
Such was the case when I invited some friends from church to our home.
“Come to afternoon tea”, I said. “On the verandah and in the garden.”
Of course, the plan was immediately followed by a piece of brash foolishness.
“I’m doing it all myself,” I proudly told my husband.
By myself, I had rarely entertained more than one person at a time, afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it.
“Okay,” he finally said.
Carefully, I made a menu, a shopping list and a detailed schedule.
Checked them a million times.
Tidied up the verandah.
And prayed for good weather.
Daughter and son-in-law kindly took the list and went shopping.
My good man left me alone to get everything ready.
Then he phoned: “Shall I pick up a couple quiches?”
“No,” I said. “I have enough food.”
“Hmmm…” he said.
The garden looked lovely.
Birds sang their welcome.
I took a deep breath.
Our guests were arriving.
My husband smoothly took over the greetings, drinks and garden tours.
In the kitchen, I smelled something delicious.
Quiches warming in the oven.
I started out very well.
But before long, our friends ordered me to rest. I wisely obeyed and everyone helped everyone else.
Everything unfolded according to plan, prayer and an abundance of good sense (not mine).
Perfect weather for garden-touring.
Happy and helpful guests and one very thoughtful husband.
There was also this frequent visitor.
And yes: the quiches were a hit.
It’s such a great blessing: having a caring church family to call our own.
For years we’d kept telling Claire, our priest: “We’d like to invite you and others to visit.”
But I simply hadn’t felt up to the task. So Claire wisely nudged us and last week, it finally happened.
Watching their happy faces made my husband and me happy.
We ended the party by saying ‘the grace’.
As we held hands and prayed, my cup ran over with joy.
Great thanks to photographer Gundy Schloen.
I grew up in the tea-drinking capital of Jamaica.
Mandeville was a mountain resort town. The air was cool, the sweaters were thick and some of the oldest homes were built with multiple fireplaces.
It was a snobbish society back then, and more British than the British. The denizens of Mandeville included the titled, the somewhat aristocratic, and those who wished they were.
Afternoon Tea meant dressing up; cucumber sandwiches prepared by a servant; tea served from heirloom teapots into dainty cups.
I looked down my nose at these customs.
Fast forward a few decades, and I’m at home near Toronto, when a friend serves me my comeuppance. A cup of comeuppance, you could call it.
Marilyn Mirabelli, owner of Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas, catered an afternoon tea for my visitors. As you can imagine, Marilyn is passionate and knowledgeable about tea.
Guests included Shelagh Rogers, the celebrated and beloved host of the CBC’s author-interview program, The Next Chapter. Shelagh had read about our old house and garden in my book, A Good Home, and I was pleased to invite her and her colleagues Jacquie and Erin to visit.
We sat around the verandah table, drinking tea from colourful cups.
We enjoyed delicious freshly-baked scones, fruit preserves, Devon clotted cream, and smoked salmon.
The tea was called Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea.
Marilyn regaled us with tea-tales.
Contrary to popular belief, Marilyn said, it was Anna, Duchess of Bedford – a lady-in-waiting to Queen Victoria – who started the afternoon tea tradition.
Anna had dizzy spells in the afternoon, so the doctor prescribed tea with buttered bread. Soon, the other ladies-in-waiting joined Anna in her chamber for tea and toast. Queen Victoria liked the ritual so much, she joined the tea party too.
We also learned that a teacup handle is called an “ear”. Guess why?
Marilyn explained the markings on the bottom-side of our saucers, which give clues to the origins of each set. We eagerly held out our saucers to learn more.
My husband dropped in to say hello. He said we were all grinning like girls at a tea party. Which I guess we were. Kinda.
Fact is, for one afternoon, I’d become a lady who does afternoon tea.
I imagined that my teenage self would have been horrified.
“But we’re not snobs!” I told her. “And we don’t wear hats! And the teacups don’t match! And there are holes in the old chenille spread – – er, tablecloth!”
But she was not amused.
So I didn’t dare tell her that I could get to really like afternoon tea.
Just as long as the cups don’t match, the tablecloth has holes, no-one has a fancy title, and everyone knows how to giggle.
Everybody was complaining about summer.
After a painful several months – much of it spent in bed – I welcomed the summer by taking to the verandah.
Colourful cushions, simple wood furniture and time-worn rugs created a homey feel.
A verandah is a place for serious summer reading….
Or some serious hanging out….
In the nearby garden, sometimes it rained and hailed and the wind was crazy.
But flowers bloomed everywhere.
The air was fresh.
Family and friends came to visit.
Some invited themselves, which I loved.
“How are you coping these days?”
“I’ve taken to the verandah,” I replied.
“I’m coming to visit!”
It was the summer of the verandah. Of kindness and affection. Laughter and quiet moments.
My editor Tim, returning home to South Africa, spent most of his last week in Canada with our family. He held court on the verandah like an eminence grise, saying wise, cryptic and funny things to everyone.
Some people wondered how he’d handle returning to a country which he left decades ago. Tim’s enigmatic reply: “Did I mention I’ll have the use of a heated swimming pool?”
“Long way to go for a heated swimming pool,” we laughed.
Of course, one should always feed one’s visitors. Despite one’s lack of cooking talent.
“You are the best cook I’ve ever met,” Tim declared, straight-faced, to loud laughter.
I swatted him with my dinner napkin. He complained – theatrically – of “the abuses I suffer in your home”.
We alternated between joking, serious talk and companionable silence. If tears were hovering, we didn’t let them show. This man has been a stalwart friend to me through life’s challenging times and I shall miss him.
Marilyn visited next. Marilyn’s the doyenne of tea (See Simply Splendid Victorian Afternoon Teas.) She kindly admired my floral arrangement and I wisely served a cold lunch… no cooking required.
“I caught that salmon, smoked it and sliced it,” I lied.
“Well done,” she praised, playing along.
Seriously, though: the lettuce, tomatoes and red currants came from our garden.
Longtime friend Dale arrived late one night, on her way back home from visiting family out west. I made breakfast, the only thing I cook consistently well, and we caught up on family news.
Marie, who lives way up north, took an evening break from her role in an important cross-country hearing. My husband cooked supper that day, as he did for my childhood friend, Angela and her family. Wonderful occasions.
Jacqui dropped in and lucked into one of the nicest dishes I made this summer.
“But this is GOOD!” she declared.
“Don’t tell anyone!” I pleaded. “You’ll ruin my reputation.”
Anthony Trollope once asked: “What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book and a cup of coffee?”
My answer: “A verandah, a garden, and loved ones to share them with.”
Dedicated, with a grateful heart, to my caring family and friends… and everyone who appreciates a verandah.