The blue skies turn dark, a light charcoal grey. The air becomes perfectly still. As if all of nature is holding its breath. And then comes the rain, in sheets and showers. Pouring down on dry summer grass, hungry garden beds… and our family’s verandah roof. The water streams down in front of and beside the verandah. It’s too much, too sudden for the verandah’s eaves trough; powerful streams torrent into the garden bed below. The white-blooming Annabelle hydrangea is taking a beating. Branches part and bend with the wisdom of growing things faced with the unstoppable power of water. “I should grab my camera”, I tell myself. But I’m enjoying this moment too much to move. I sit back in my comfortable Muskoka chair and watch it all, from the shelter of my verandah.
The In-between Place
That summer became known as “The Summer I Took to the Verandah”. It was a summer of guests. It was as if I had sent a smoke signal, far and wide, or at least taken an ad in a newspaper. My taking to the verandah, relatives and friends decided, must mean that I was turning a corner in my recovery journey and ready to receive guests. And furthermore, they hadn’t seen me in a long time. It was time to visit. I had cleaned off the long bench – a place to rest when I needed. I wiped down the wide arms, backs and seats of the Muskoka chairs. Out came the brightly coloured cushions, the sturdy old wicker chairs, and the big old outdoor table. Around the table, I set chairs for dining and on top of it, the white chenille spread that had been on this earth far longer than I. The chenille spread? Yes. Pressed into duty as an elegant tablecloth, its two holes at one end carefully hidden out of view. “I should patch those holes”, I’d think... and promptly forget. Once in a while, a guest sitting at that end of the table would accidentally encounter the holes and we would all laugh.
A Verandah is a Place for Laughter
My friend Marilyn, an expert tea sommelier, decided to throw a tea party for me on the verandah that summer – the summer of my verandah-living. My guests and I used the pretty but mismatched teacups that our family hadn’t used in years, and delighted in the Buckingham Palace Garden Party Tea, the freshly made scones, Devon clotted cream, preserves and smoked salmon. We listened to Marilyn’s tea-tales with baited breath. 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 examined our cups and laughed
merrily as Marilyn further explained that a teacup handle is called an “ear”. “They do look like ears!” everyone replied.
Visitors seemed to laugh and talk more freely on our verandah. A verandah is a place for shared verandah, people found themselves telling me about the things that worried them. Perhaps they were even more reassured by the likelihood that I wouldn’t remember, I would tease later. Parents, troubled by the choices of teenage children; wives, concerned about the health of their husbands; friends puzzling over what to do about a once-close friendship. An executive wanting to change jobs. I did the only thing I was qualified to do: listen, encourage, reassure. Pour a cup of mint tea. A glass of juice or water. These were the private stories – the ones too
private, even, to record in detail in my journals. And so, the headlines are all I noted and all I remember. Occasionally, to change the mood, to allow my visitor to regain her composure, I invited her to walk with me in the nearby garden, to carry the jug A cane in one hand, a sturdy pair of scissors in another, I’d turn to my guest and ask: “What do you think? Will these ones go well together?” Sometimes, the guest would gently reach over, herself, placing them in the jug by our feet. Together, we’d walk back to the verandah guest is guaranteed to be superior at this art. I wasn’t ready to return to the world. But there, in the in-between space of that verandah, I found joy. There will, I hope, be other summers, other visits and other verandahs. But the summer I took to the verandah will always be special.
right page above, Sung Kim http://www.art.com/gallery/id--a7088/sung-kim-posters.htm
left page above, Jill Louise Campbell, Dining in Blues, watercolour, www.jlcgallery.com following pages, left page bottom: Jill Louise Campbell, Le Jardin, watercolour, www.jlcgallery.com
below, Janet Kruskamp www.janetkruskamp.com, Sea Side Inn, licensed by Bentley Licensing Group