Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My Best Cup of Tea

In the past two years I have slowly watched the life leaving my grandparents eyes. This has not been an easy time for anyone in my family. As a matter of fact, they have been that to every member of my family throughout their years together. When I mindfully recall memories of my grandparents, it undoubtedly involves the drinking of tea. From a very young age, whenever there was time for conversation, time for relaxing, or a stressful situation, a cup of tea was always, without fail, a part of it all.

My first poignant memory of drinking tea with Gram(my grandmother) was during one of the many sleepovers I had at her home. I was about 6 years old and I was staying over without my older brother. He is only 18 months older so we usually were sent on sleepovers together. But, that particular night he had something fun of his own to do, so I was rewarded with my own night with my grandparents. Every time we stayed over, which was usually a Saturday night, we watched The Lawrence Welk Show, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, in that order. Being that we were never allowed to stay up that late at home, this was a bona fide treat. As tradition would have it, that night was no different. After sitting together and laughing at Tatoo say "Look da plane boss, da plane", and wishing I had hair like Barbie Benton, I was tucked into bed. She sang the closing song from the Lawrence Welk Show(Goodnight, Sleeptight) to me, as she did everytime she tucked me or my brother into bed. My bedroom was my Uncle Joe's old room. It was the size of a walk in closet, with a large, old wooden trunk, a dresser and single bed with a trains on the bed spread(no comforters or duvet covers at that time). Several animal and decorative pillows that matched the bedspread were lined against the wall and corner into which the bed was crammed. I loved that room, so you can imagine my disappointment when I became sick all over my favorite animal pillows and the bedspread. I had only been asleep a few hours when I woke up and tried to run into the bathroom across the hall to vomit. I had the flu, on the night of my special sleepover. I thought my Gram would be mad at the mess I had made of the bed, of course I was wrong. She could have cared less about the bed, she only cared about me. Being sick at Gram's house turned out to be a much better time than being sick at home. Gram was a natural at making me feel safe and cared for that night, something that my mother never did when my brother or I got sick. I must have gotten my "nursing" genes from my Gram because my Mother has no such genes.

After my horrible retching had subsided, my Gram took me downstairs to wipe off my mouth, and wash my hair, which had been a casualty of my battle with the toilet. She always washed her hair in the kitchen sink, so that night my hair was washed in the kitchen sink. The kitchen was an extremely tiny room. I still find it unbelievable the meals she was able to create and serve in that tiny space. There was a table set up against the wall with three chairs, if anyone wanted to open the oven or the refrigerator, you had to move from your chair. However, the important and memorable moment was the cup of tea she served me. I will never forget that night. I was a big girl, having a cup of tea with my Gram in the middle of the night. I felt like I had grown up in one day. That night I night I drank my best cup of tea with my Gram.

Ever since that time in my Gram's kitchen, every significant time in my life revolved around a cup of tea. The tea is never anything fancy, usually Lipton, Red Rose, or Tetley. For anyone who drinks Red Rose Tea, they know how there are little ceramic figurines in ever box. A permanent reminder of all the tea I have drank can be found in an old printer's box that hangs in my powder room. Most of the shelves are filled with the figures from the Red Rose Tea boxes of my past.

Tea was and is always served with milk and sugar, although, the sweetener has changed through the years. My Gram and my Mum were, and still are, always on a diet, so the sweetening changed from saccharine to Sweetnlow to the present day Splenda. I have broke the mold by moving into sugar in the raw. I figure anything that carries the warning: causes cancer in rats, is not a good thing when there is a perfectly natural substance that will sweeten just as well, if not better. If you come to my house and you are offered a cup of tea, that is how it will be served.

My children have embraced the cup of tea with the same enthusiasm that I did when I was their age. They have learned to find comfort and conversation in a cup of tea; they drink it after school, on weekend mornings, or when they relax with a book. Recently, I woke up to find my 6 year old daughter, watching the birds in the bird feeder, while curled up under a blanket, in a wing back chair, beside the burning fireplace, and sipping a cup of tea. She even made the tea in a fancy teacup from my collection of china teacups. I do not know if that was her best cup of tea, but it will certainly be a cup of tea I never forget. It will be a marker in my life of the day she became a big girl, just like that night I slept over my grandparent's house.

Living life with small rituals, like drinking a cup of tea, can make the mundane, otherwise forgettable moments, memorable.

What was your most memorable cup of coffee or tea?


  1. It is precious to me that you turned a sick memory into a time of treasured oneness with your grandmother. Tea. How simple, yet, obviously profound in your life.

    It is those tiny things, repeated, that make a life, isn't it?

    And, by the way, on another note, I am as much a rock hound as you or my dog. I love the advise you give to your children to hold the rock until their mood changes. Wonderful. The earth does ground us.

    Have you checked out the possibilities of joining the conversation and linking your blog at five for ten by Momalon?

  2. What a sweet memory. I actually have some good sick day memories myself.

    My best cup of coffee.... With my Dad... years ago when we lived outside of Detroit. I was around 14 or 15 years old, and... I took ballet 6 days a week. On Saturdays, my Dad would pick me up, and we would have coffee and maybe a light breakfast together - nowhere fancy - donut place, diner.... At the time, I was new at school (having just moved to the area), and I was in a super competitive dance class with no friends. I didn't get much time with my Dad - even though we were a lot alike. I had two brothers who needed his attention, and my Mother did too (and she and I did not have a lot in common). I admired him so much, and I loved that he wanted to sit and visit with me. Looking back, I'm not sure how I was able to spend so much time with him uninterrupted. I'm guessing, as an avid runner, he was always out on one of his Saturday runs and probably just said he'd come go get me. I remember having a sense that this was stolen time and quite special.

    Anyway, now that he's gone (cancer - 4 years ago), I really realize how cool that all was :-).

    I like this post A LOT.

  3. Rebecca,
    I had a feeling you were a rock hound too.
    My memories have a habit of evolving around food and drink, what does that say about Italians? My grandmother had a stroke a few weeks back so she is always on my mind lately and she is most present when I drink tea.

    I have not thought about the 5 for 10 because I write better when it comes from my heart in a personal moment. I have not trained myself yet to write on topics given to me. I am a nurse so I have never written much before or taken writing courses, and I want to keep it pure right now. I do enjoy the concept. Maybe after I get my feet deeper in the pool. Right now I am still on the surface and feel safe there.

  4. Sherri,
    I have asked a few family members this question and have realized, that you and I are lucky to have special moments like this. Not everyone does. It makes me very cognizant of the memories my children my have. There is a special bond with father/daughter pairs. I like that you were aware it was stolen time. Our children perceive much more than we often give them credit for.

  5. Lovely, the bond with your Gram. I loved my one and only grandmother, my Buby, and although we didn't drink tea, I love tea and it makes me think of rain in Ireland, and of London and sandwiches without crusts, scones and clotted cream.

    This post also made me think of bringing my Buby a ripe peach in the months before she had to leave her apartment to go to the nursing home. Everything in her body was breaking down, but on a summer day she sat savoring that peach and a few tears fell down her cheeks. She said nothing, but I felt the reminisced sweetness, and the losses, of a whole life crystalizing into a moment that a young teenager could scarcely understand.

  6. I'm smiling at Rebecca's comment because I read your post thinking, "This is such a perfect memory post for 5 for 10!" Even though you aren't participating - which I totally understand and respect (my best posts also tend to come from spontaneous inspiration rather than from following a prompt)- I appreciated reading your piece in the context of all the other essays on memory that I've been reading yesterday and today. The details that you capture - from the walk-in closet-sized room to the figurines in the tea box - really draw me in as a reader. I also really appreciate the way you chose the ritual of making and sharing tea as the culmination of your memory. Something so simple, yet so infused with meaning.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely post, Joely.

  7. The simplicity of a cup of tea. And so much memory.

    How lovely. I can see the tea box. Perfect.

  8. Gosh, privilegeofparenting, you have posted such a powerful little snippet of a memory here. Also, Joely, I have revisited this post again and again over the past few days as well as directed people here. I love the details your memory has stored, and I think we all need to stop, take a breath and remember now and then...

  9. Bruce,
    It is interesting that you captured your Buby's tears and recognized them as a significant moment for her. I find it remarkable what children and teenagers are able to sense. The beautiful memories of older family members are priceless.There is a proverb that memory is the gratitude of the heart. This seems very true in your memory.

  10. Kristen,
    I can picture that room and her house in my minds eye like it was yesterday. I found such comfort there. Thank you for your kind words.

  11. Big Little Wolf,
    I have had that printers box filled with ceramic animals since I was a child. When my childhood friends come into town for a visit, they all remember it too. A little piece of my previous home in my present home.

  12. I think I sent you an email...but just in case: a few days ago I was taking a walk and I was very off-center.

    I took your advise and put a rock in each hand. It helped tremendously. It made me heavier and I walked that way for nearly 1/2 hour.

    Bless you for that advice.

  13. Joely, I'm sorry about your grandparents slipping away. That's how I feel about my mother right now.

    I also had a grandmother with an impossibly small kitchen and the tiniest carton of neapolitan ice cream imaginable, but, of course, a feast to me. We were separated by a chasm of language: she only spoke Yiddish and I only spoke English.

    The other day, when I was going through pictures of my father (that grandmother's son) to put on my blog, I noticed that my daughter looks just like them. For ten years I never even noticed that! Like something standing right in front of me yet hidden away, truly startling. Passing on faces, passing on traditions.

  14. :) This made me smile. I've had many best cup of tea stories, I couldn't pick just one. But the ones I shared with you after school were always the best and I miss them terribly.