Last evening – a glorious Friday evening and a budding start to a hot summer weekend – we dined with a younger couple with whom we’ve been professionally and casually acquainted for twenty years or so. Our social engagement was initiated late afternoon by an impromptu telephone invitation. There were some hiccups to overcome (involving moderate re-scheduling) but the inclination to accept the invitation was there particularly as the couple is quick-witted. The congregation is something about which we had been talking for the past two years so there was momentum as well.
By the tail end of yesterday afternoon I succeeded to extract myself from my visit to my elderly mother, to gas up and wash the car (a ritual I find impossible to ignore), to pop into the liquor store to buy some wine and to stop at McGregor’s vegetable stand to get some fresh yellow beans. Our rendezvous with our hosts was set for six o’clock. I arrived home shortly after five o’clock. In preparation for our outing I jumped into the shower, dried off, sparingly applied pomade to my dampened hair then donned a dressy pair of shorts and blouson white shirt (which I kept liberally open at the neck to acknowledge the stifling heat of the day). I was set for what I knew would be an enlightening convention! Nor were we disappointed in the expectation.
Although I had some familiarity with our hosts’ house (having attended to the real estate conveyancing) it nonetheless came as a pleasant surprise to discover the intimate details of the place. The house is a large rambling home built around 1860. After an introductory tour around the main floor of the house (primarily to scope the exceptional artwork of the hostess) we spent the balance of the evening in the thoroughly comfortable screened porch. Not long after our arrival and before the meal had been set upon the table, a summer rain storm blew through. The porch of the old house was sheltered enough by surrounding mature trees to escape being drenched by the high winds and sheets of rain. Inside the porch we had the relieving benefit of cool air.
Our congregation was distinguished from the outset by the ardent swapping of tales. Two factors fuelled the conversation; one, I was curious to find out as much as possible about this manifestly scintillating couple who were notoriously accomplished in their chosen professions; and two, I perceived they had an appetite for local lore which after forty years in Almonte I am always too willing to share. Indeed when they marvelled at my depth of trivia and queried how I had managed to collect it, I explained that it was precisely in the same manner as they were now hearing it. I have never forgotten my encounters forty years ago with the late R. A. Jamieson, QC who enthralled me with stories about Almonte and its stellar personalities. I suspect at times I went overboard in my gusto to relate everything I know but I cushion the indelicacy by telling myself that the window of opportunity is narrow for the transmission of such accounts.
Normally I wouldn’t relate the minutiae of the meal but in this case it was a work of art. Unquestionably the meal was compatible with the steamy July evening, garden fresh vegetables and barbecued chicken and sausage. Dining in the ancient porched area, seated on old antique wooden chairs from Lanark County, lent a Tuscan flavour to the experience. It was the best of small-town Ontario!
Suddenly it was over. The sun imperceptibly set. The tiny lights and candles in the porched area glittered. We cleared the dishes from the table and restored the house to its erstwhile order and cleanliness. I took the liberty to play several pieces on their upright grand piano. As we drove away we remarked that we had observed the mandatory 3½ hour limit expected of discrete guests.