– Non-Fiction by Stephen Beaumont –
“Your garden is like a park,” my mother-in-law would say when she came to visit us in Wisconsin from her home in Canada.
It was a beautiful yard and we did our best to keep it looking nice. The grass took forever to cut each week. I gave up with the sit-on mower that came with the house; it was noisy and would spew black smoke when I finally got it to start, only to stall and conk out, usually at a point furthest from the garage. The walk-behind was more manageable and I could even mow some satisfying diagonal lines that looked almost as good as the neighbors’ whose lawns were serviced by professional turf companies.
After a meadow workout, I’d shower and then cool off in my favorite place, the piano bench, with a glass of beer, and knock out renditions of Gershwin, Cole Porter and Berlin. Richard Rogers would make occasional appearances with Richard Hart or Oscar Hammerstein. Sometimes Jerome Kern, Lerner and Loewe would sneak in from the wings. My audience of two, wife Ginnie and her Mom, would not even be in the same room, the sunporch being their preferred spot with its wicker and rattan furniture. They would chat about life with white wine, rye and ginger in hand as I provided background music. The stresses of the day would evaporate.
My mom-in-law knew every song from The Great American Songbook and most European ones too. She’d head off to the bathroom from the porch, pausing at the piano for a while in both directions to sing some lyrics from whatever song I was playing.
“Virginia’s Dad used to sing this one to me,” she’d say, wistfully. Or “they used to play this on the radio all the time during the war.”
She’d visit us in the winter too when the sunporch was too cold to use. Then, she would sit in the living room, close to the piano, and tap her slender hands on the leather armchair as I played, keeping time. I would seek out songs I didn’t know, just to see if she did. Rarely did she disappoint. Occasionally she’d be unable to recall a lyric and would be amazed that a quick search on an iPad would bring them right up.
“When was that one written?” she’d ask.
“1921,” I replied. Or 1939, 1943, 1948. Every song, every year, every lyric transporting her to a time and place in her long life.
Autumn in Vermont.
A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.
It’s a long, long way to Tipperary
She enjoyed her winter visits, but living as she did in a grey, city high-rise, summers and early falls were her favorite. During those dusky-days with her only surviving daughter, she’d re-live her past while sitting on our sunporch, recounting stories about her husband, Ginnie’s Dad, taken from them 45 years earlier. She talked about the one trip they made to Vermont together, the daughter snatched from life at 46, her parents, her brothers, her second husband. Unrealized dreams. Flowers and gardens. Unfinished songs.
She was sad when life threw unexpected challenges at us and we had to move from Wisconsin, sell our not-to-be-forever house with the garden park and the sunporch. She still visited us in the series of rental homes we had to live in while we pieced our lives back together. I kept the piano. And she kept music and hope alive.
“I’ll always remember the times we spent on that porch,” she said, as I played “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places.”
“I know better times will come for you.”
And she was right. Eventually another change of circumstances sent me to a job with a provided house. On a lake. With a sunporch. We moved in a week before last Christmas.
It’s August. The whirring of the ceiling fan is punctuated now by a tick, tick, tick. One of the blades is slightly out of balance. I’ll need to get that fixed. It’s warmer out here than in the house but the fans keep the air moving, wafting early evening scents off the lake towards us through the screens. Someone’s having a barbecue.
Ginnie sits in the rattan chair, her Mom’s favorite, the one we paid too much for but is the most comfortable chair we own, despite its unwieldy size. Her laptop is open on the knee cushion as it often is, the Apple logo glowing, a stemless glass of Riesling perched on the side table. She smiles as she peers over the screen.
“What do you think of this?” she says, and reads a freshly written section of her memoir to me.
“Does it make sense?”
I sip my beer and nibble cashews as she describes the last moments of her Mom’s life last Christmas Day. Our eyes well up and I tell her it’s beautiful.
A lone kayaker glides by, iridescent orange against the blue water, droplets cascading off the end of her paddle, catching the sun like dancing diamonds. Our puppy jumps up beside me on the chaise lounge, and the three of us watch in silence until she disappears behind the neighbor’s dock.
About the Author – Stephen Beaumont
Originally from UK, Stephen Beaumont moved to USA in 1994. A veteran of the luxury hospitality industry, he currently manages a private estate for a prominent Canadian family. His work has been published in The Anti-Languorous Project’s audio magazine, SoundBite and The Remembered Arts Journal. A wine educator, he wrote a wine column for Wisconsin Golfer Magazine for eight years. Stephen is a dad, granddad, musician, cook and photographer and lives with his Canadian wife, (also a writer) and puppy on Lake St Clair, Ontario.
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