the tonic of tea
I was almost eighteen before I had a cup of tea.
I knew it was good stuff.
It was my mothers' tonic.
She took a cup to bed with her at night.
The White's our next door neighbours lived on it.
Their father would put two teabags in a cup sometimes so it would be stronger.
As little kids they would dunk big slices of toasted homemade bread in milky tea. I marvelled that they were so small and drinking tea. It had never been offered to me at home. I always thought of it as an adult thing.
And then I got older and went to Mildred Strange's eightieth birthday part. By then I was sophisticated and sometimes drank Nescafe instant coffee while I was studying.
Mildred, at her birthday party served me a cup of black tea in a china cup and so to be polite I drank it.
And I liked it. It surprised me. This thin amber liquid, well there was something about it.
So I became a tea drinker. For years I extolled the virtues of Red Rose and King Cole and oatcakes. There was no better painting in my mind.
Then somewhere in my mid forties it seemed caffeine was getting the best of me. No more. I quit it. I became, like my sisters before me, a decaffeinated woman.
Tea has never been the same but still it's good enough. After so many years I can barely tell the difference anymore. This summer I was out for dinner. We had been biking in the heavy rain and after drying off, the dampness had set into us a bit.
My husband ordered tea with milk and when It came it looked so cozy. I said I'll have the same. I was thinking of Pam and Gerry White dunking toast. I wanted to get warm. So for the first time I had tea with milk. And it was pretty good too.
There are some things that exude warmth.
Tea is one of them. It is the nectar of friendship. It is an elixir that opens the channels of communication between people.
I turn to it when I don't know what else to do. Just the making of it, that routine of filling the kettle, getting the cup, and watching that steamy water fill it makes me feel as if somehow everything will be ok.
I am glad Mildred poured me that cup of tea with expectations that I'd drink it. Who could say no on her eightieth birthday. She poured me a cup of sustenance really. One I'd carry with me through out my life in one way or another.
Black tea, camomile, liquorice, mint, chai with milk or with out, it doesn't really matter does it. It is about feeling that pottery mug in your hand, seeing the steam rising, and sitting it down beside you as you hook or read.
You sip it. It warms you. It's tea and it's for you.
- Deanne Fitzpatrick