I’m married to a Brit and tea has always been a big feature in our lives (for my husband, a cup of tea is the answer to so many woes). We’re not very good about using a cup and saucer and tend to default to mugs most of the time. I love a good mug, but the delicacy of a tea cup is something else altogether and makes the tea taste somehow different. Tea cups are most definitely for tea time, which is not just about refreshment but more about social interaction.
The more traditional of the two cups in the picture was my grandmother’s, and taking the time to have my tea this way returns me to past tea times with friends. It particularly takes me back to many special tea times with our good friend Erika, who always had the kettle on, a teapot ready and cups or mugs at hand, along with plates of goodies. In recent years her plates ususally combined her own baking (often a batch of muffins) with miniature cinnamon buns from the store, which were especially popular with the kids. It was nothing extraordinary, but it was special, because of the care that went into preparing for tea time together and the conversation to be had.
Certainly Erika was of a generation that knew how to do tea properly and when it was time for a glass of sherry or wine (that was our Hallowe’en libation when we visited Erika several years running with our boys in tow, but that’s another story), but that subtle attention to ceremony was just the backdrop. Conversation is what featured front and centre at these tea time visits, and Erika held thousands of these little tête-à-tête’s over her 97 years, being a woman who cultivated friendships wherever she went.
What made time with Erika so special is that you never felt like one in a sea or hundreds or thousands; you felt as though your visit was treasured and unique, which it was. She always remembered vital things going on in your life from the last visit and asked how things were or enquired after the health of a family member. She always had one or more books on the go (she participated in a book club nearly until the end of her life) and lots of ideas and reactions to share about them.
She wanted to know what you were reading and what your thoughts were on issues in the news that had touched a nerve or got her thinking. She had strong opinions but was endlessly open and generous in her interactions and was comfortable in speaking to anyone. Erika always had time to involve any children who might also be present in the conversation, which she did many times with our boys, and knew innately how to balance such a visit.
It’s been almost two years since Erika’s passing and longer than that since our last tea time with her, but those past conversations still live on. Every time I take a cup and saucer down from the shelf I am reminded of Erika, and I will deliberately do that more often now.