The Tea Ritual

Sometimes Mom would drop me off in town to  spend an afternoon  with  Grandma Jolly.  I always went there with apprehension.  Grandma had very strict rules.  No running nor exploring indoors and above all keep very quiet.  She was stern and extremely calm and rather elegant.  She never cussed  or raised her voice like mom and dad.  She didn’t need to, she could freeze you with a look. When there, much of my time was spent outside playing around the grape arbor, with it’s sweet-smelling, large succulent round grapes.  Inside, was a totally different experience.  Grandma Jolly seemed ancient to me, and more importantly she was more than a little frightening.  She had a very stern face with high cheekbones, a very large nose and ears and wrinkled skin.    She lived simply, but she had really fine things like wonderful wood armoire’s and antique wood tables, a brass bed and really fine china, sugar cubes and a ceramic salt-box.  She had cut crystal butter dishes and fruitbowls.     Everything was always very neat and clean and orderly, though she and her house had an old, stale smell.   Grandpa, the mayor of Desoto,  had been dead since before I was born, but I noticed that sometimes Grandma set a place at the table for him.  I was a shy and easily frightened little girl but what I looked forward to was afternoon tea with her.  Grandma Floyd drank cold tea from a mason jar.  But Grandma Jolly served tea the proper English way.  She had a quiet ritual that I loved to watch.  First the old woman would fill the  metal teapot with water.  Then she would take a wooden match from the box which hung on the kitchen wall near the stove.  Striking it she’d light the gas stove.  Putting the water  on the stove to boil, she would then scoop up loose Earl Grey tea for the china teapot with the flutes and gold trim and then turn her attention to setting the table.   Without asking or  saying anything she’d set out saucers, cups and silver spoons for both of us. I thought her china was about the most beautiful thing I ever saw.  At home, we ate on melamine plastic dishes and drank from brightly colored aluminum glasses.  Much more practical than this.  She would move the cut crystal sugar bowl to the center of the table and pour milk into the matching creamer.  The only proper way to drink hot tea was with milk, after all.  When the water boiled she would pour it over the tea, releasing the aroma which I thought was so much nicer than the harsh coffee  mom and dad drank.  The two of us would sit quietly and sip our tea together.  She didn’t want to know who I was, but she tolerated my presence.   I not only felt grown up for having been served hot tea, but  relished the beauty of the event.  It was so ceremonial to me, even though I didn’t know that word then.

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