Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Family Tradition

(Okay, fine, this is utterly cheating. But I wrote this piece for my writing class, and it's fairly well revised and polished, and I'm feeling guilty about not blogging even though I have several drafts in the queue and so I'm resorting to cheating. But it's a nice tradition, cheating or no...)


My mother’s finest tea cups, Royal Doulton bone china laced with delicate flowers, lay before us on the table. At age 8, I could hardly believe my luck – it was Christmas Eve; I was up past bedtime (too excited to sleep, anyway); I got to use the fancy cups and drink tea with way too much sugar and milk. Best of all, seated around the base of the softly glowing Christmas tree were two of my most favorite women: my mom and her mom, my beloved grandmother. A tradition was born.

Each subsequent year, I looked forward to the Ladies’ Tea on Christmas Eve almost as much as I looked forward to everything else – the cookie making, the gifts, the magic of the season. I loved shooing out the men in our lives – my dad and my brother Adam– this was for girls only, we’d exclaim. They acted indignant, but it was all for show.

We shared tea for years and years and years. Our time together, like the tea we shared, was delicious and warm, infused with love. In 1994, when I was a freshman in high school, things changed. My beloved grandma died in the earliest hours of Christmas Eve, before we’d had a chance to drink our tea. It was not unexpected, yet the grief and pain of losing her on such an important and significant day shattered my heart like the fine china we’d sipped from. There was no tea that year….

….or the next one, either. I was angry that my grandma died on Christmas Eve, because the magic of Christmas was gone. Her death created a permanent stain in our teacups, one that refused to lift despite repeated scrubbing. Eventually, though, the stain began to fade, and our tradition resumed…

Many Christmas Eves later, when Adam was home for a visit and my future husband, Jeff, was staying with us, our tea tradition took a turn for the worse. Throwing our good sense down the drain along with the steeped tea leaves, my mother and I – the only women in the house – foolishly decided to allow the men to join us for tea, but only if they promised to be on their best behavior. We should have known that trouble lay ahead when they turned their noses up at our Darjeeling blend, insisting that their “tea” was a two finger pour of Glenfiddich. Apparently scotch and sugar cookies make for a boisterous pairing, because the tea had scarcely been served before my mother and I made a beeline for the door, away from the peals of laughter coming from the men. We loved them dearly, yet they had no appreciation whatsoever for the dignified, classy nightcap on our Christmas Eve. They’ve not been invited back.

In 2006, Adam, his partner Linsey, and their son Hugo joined us for Christmas; my mom and I were thrilled to have another woman join us for tea. Linsey had heard about this tradition before, and arrived prepared… with a new blend of “tea,” this one more of the bubbly and spirited kind. We exchanged our Wedgwood for Waterford, rose leaf tea for sparkling rosé. Although I was well past my 21st birthday, I had the odd sensation of feeling like that eight year old again, experiencing my first grown up tea with the fine women in my life; the rosé proved to be a whole new kind of grown up tea.

Since Linsey’s tea with us those years ago, we’ve continued to faithfully set out the special Santa tea pot each year - but we’ve abandoned tea in favor of one variety or another of sparkling wine. Yet I sense that the eve is approaching, soon, when the tradition will change again, when we will go back to tea with way too much sugar and milk, for there are up-and-coming eight-year-olds in this house. I have no daughters, but I do have three very fine sons who will revel in the opportunity to sip tea on Christmas Eve with two of their favorite women ever – Mom and Grandma. Our time together promises to be delicious and warm, infused with love.

1 comment:

Susan said...

OK, I am sitting in a coffee shop in West Jefferson.....crying. Such sweet memories and plans for future teas....thank you Anne.