Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Tea Time in the Garden by Milou Koenings

I had dinner outside last night, on my terrace, by candlelight. It seemed a fitting end to the summer. Tonight, my kids come home from a month-long visit to their grandparents in Chicago and in a few days we’ll all be adjusting to new routines, early morning bustle, making school lunches and hustling everyone out the door on time.

But last evening, lulled by the song of crickets in the darkness, I reflected on how eating outdoors evokes such wonderful late summer memories.

unsplash-logoLiana Mikah

Sure, I’ve been blessed with many picnic memories. Some were delightful, like the one at the edge of a remote lake in Africa where various wildlife popped in to say hi, or the day I cooked breakfast, wrapped it up and took everyone down to the still-empty park to eat on the dewy grass. Others were disasters, like the time the extra gas canister in the back of the jeep sprang a leak and flooded all our food for the trip over and past the Mountains of the Moon, and that was before we got mired in mud ­— fortunately we can all laugh about it now, but it sure wasn’t funny at the time!

But the image that most comes to mind in the late summer if of my visits to my godmother. Every year of my earliest childhood, my parents shipped me off to spend two weeks with my godmother. 

She and her husband lived in Brussels, in a big house so removed from the boulevard that was its official address that one could pretend to be out in the country. It was a magical place to me. There was actually a library in the house — the kind with the rolling ladders to reach the highest shelves. There was a grand piano that I was allowed to “play” for hours. There was a dovecote, with the attendant cooing playing the background melody of each day. There was only one telephone and it was the candlestick kind that you need both hands to use — one to hold the little hearing piece to your ear and one to hold the base. It had been installed in the 1920s by my godmother’s parents, and sixty years later, she didn’t see any reason to replace it — it worked just fine.

One of my godmother’s passions was her rose garden, a wild, rambling thing that overtook the front alley with heady scents and glorious colors. At the edge of it, off to the side of the house, was a clearing with a gnarled old tree. There was a bench beneath it that had been there so long that the tree had grown through and around it so that the two were now one being.

My godmother had set a table and chairs before the bench, and every afternoon in August, she served tea under the tree.  And I don’t mean toss-a-tea-bag-in-a-mug kind of tea.  It was a ceremony planned for from early morning, when her first task after breakfast was to bake the pastry of the day. (My favorite was boterkoek, a Dutch pastry made with candied ginger.) Then, in the afternoon, there was laying out the tea tray: setting out a lacy cloth over the tray; stacking delicate saucers and cups and cake plates; the sugar bowl with its silver tongs; the creamer; the teapot, the plate of thinly sliced lemon.

unsplash-logoAnita Austvika

At four, we’d go sit under the tree and my godmother would pour. This was the time that their friends knew they were welcome to come by. So, each day was different — on rare occasions it was just the three of us, but most of the time one or two of their friends would join us.  My godmother was a pianist. Her husband was an archaeologist. Among their friends were not only colleagues, but also artists and college professors in other fields.

There I was, a quiet child sitting under the tree, sipping my tea and nibbling my slice of boterkoek, imbibing the most fascinating conversations. I learned more esoteric things on those lazy August afternoons than I ever did at school — not least of which was the existence of Disney World in Florida. One of the friends, an engineer, had just returned from taking his family there. He explained in detail not only the rides, but also the ingenious ways in which they were constructed. It sounded so out-of-this-world, that to this day I fear a visit to Disney World would pale in comparison to the vision he described to us that day. (I have taken my kids to Disneyland in Paris, though, and admit I was not disappointed in the least!) I also now associate engineers with Disney magic, which is probably why I’m so fond of them.

unsplash-logoAnita Austvika

My grown-up life is so hectic, there’s little room for this kind of genteel ritual. But if I need a little end-of-summer vacation, I’m grateful I can slip into my memories and still enjoy this one. 

And if an intertwined tree and bench or a gracious teatime make an appearance in any of my books, you’ll know where it came from.

Milou Koenings is a USA Today bestselling author. She writes romance because, like chocolate, stories with a happy ending bring more joy into the world and so make it a better place.

Her other Green Pines sweet romances, I Love You Three, Reclaiming Home, The Kampala Peppermint Twist and Sweet Blizzard are available on AmazonAmazon.uk, iBooks, Nook, Kobo and all your favorite e-book retailers.

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  1. Such a beautiful post and such wonderful memories, Milou! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Milou, thank you for the lovely post. It's a mini vacation for the mind!

  3. Milou, those are delightful memories.

  4. Thanks for sharing. Our memories are precious.

  5. What wonderful memories to have. We grew up pretty poor during most of my younger years. I spent most of them being really sick, so I was either in bed or at least confined to the house.
    When I was in the third grade, I was finally getting well enough to be able to enjoy a normal childhood. 😊
    We lived out on a farm that year where the people who owned it raised race horses. I would love to go out and rub their beautiful coats. They were amazing to me. When a new one was born, we would get to name it. My favorite one I named Starfire. She was a beautiful dark beige coat with a white star in the middle of her forehead. I loved that horse.
    We moved away to another state, so I never knew how she grew up and if she ever raced and if she did, how fast she was.
    I know these aren’t normal childhood memories, but for me that year was an amazing year. To finally be Well enough to go out and be a normal little girl.