Friday, March 4, 2011

afternoon tea

When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with all things tea-related.  For a while, I took afternoon tea every day.  It might just be a cup of tea and some graham crackers, but it gave me a lot of refreshment.  And not only refreshment, but it was the romance of the whole thing for me.  I think I pictured myself in Victorian England, stepping out of a historical novel.  When I was a teenager, I started my teacup and teapot collection.  Some were bought at antique stores; some were given to me as gifts. The more flowery the better.  Tea roses and pansies in particular struck my fancy.  I used my teacups and teapots to decorate with.  I had a silver tea service that had a place of honor in my room.  When I turned 16, I wanted to have a real afternoon tea party at the local bed and breakfast with ladies of all ages.  We dressed up and everything.  I was in my element.

During this time, I was given the book If Teacups Could Talk by Emilie Barnes.  It is filled with the history of tea parties, wonderful recipes, and tea-related quotations.  I can remember being hugely excited to make my first scones, complete with mock Devonshire cream!  I remember mixing the dry ingredients together, cutting in the butter with a knife, pouring buttermilk into the well in the center.  I remember cutting the biscuit-like scones out with a drinking glass.  I remember slathering them with egg wash.  I remember how excited I was to eat them and how good they smelled and tasted the first time.

Today I made the same recipe with my daughter.  We measured out the ingredients for the scones together.  I cut the butter into tiny cubes and she helped me mix it in with a potato masher.  We mixed in the buttermilk until the dough was clingy.  I rolled out the dough and she worked with me to cut out biscuits with a drinking glass.  Oh, the happy memories.  The smile and her face and the flour on her nose.

I let her pick out a teapot and teacup to use.  A friend had suggested a tea party to me when I was starved for ideas to fill the long hours at home.  Maybe she just meant a pretend tea party.  I’m not sure.  Burrito and I have had pretend ones before and they are always fun, but they don’t always last that long.  The idea occurred to me that she was old enough to have a real tea party.  I immediately started getting excited.  I had not used my teacups and teapots for years and years.  They had been faithfully packed and unpacked through several moves, but for the most part, they sat around the house as decorations.  Pretty, but not used.  Collecting dust. 

I suppose it’s safer in a way to just let things collect dust.  There’s no risk of breakage.  You can bring guests around to admire your collection.  But, honestly, where’s the fun in that?  Pretty things were made to be used.  When we use beautiful things, they elevate an occasion.  They make it extra special.

So with Burrito trailing at my heels, I carted my beautiful and unique bone china cups and nice teapots into the kitchen and washed them.  While she was sleeping, I set a table for tea.  I brought her down from her nap and she saw the beautiful table set just for her.  I poured her mint tea and asked her if she wanted some cream.  She stirred it with a spoon.  I put a heap of crème fraiche on her scone.  She asked me to cut it in pieces.  We smiled and giggled.  We had to stop for a potty break.  I looked up into her eyes as she held one of my very favorite bone china tea cups and I thought of the many lonely years I spent as a teenager.  The years when I wondered if I would be alone forever.  The years full of confusion and sadness.  It’s not that I don’t feel lonely, confused or sad today.  I do…sometimes acutely so.  But maybe if I could have peered ahead, down the years and seen a picture of my daughter-to be carefully sipping milky mint tea out of my cherished tea cup, maybe I could have taken a deep breath and looked into the future with more hope.  Maybe in my lonely and sad moments today, it’s a lesson to me still. 

Hope has dimples, a huge smile and tiny fingers delicately lifting a beautiful thing, a tea cup to her lips.


  1. This post brought tears to my eyes, not only with the wonderful memories you just made with the Burrito, with the very end and looking ahead from the loneliness as a teenager to a hopeful future. You've put words to my feelings. :)


  2. You're building sweet memories. It reminded me of something I read a long time ago and wanted to implement as a homeschooler --poetry tea times. Of course, I ended up with kids in school instead of homeschooling, but I think it's still something we'd all benefit from... AFTER school or on a lazy Saturday afternoon.

  3. Thanks, Audrey...that touches my heart.

    And "muddytoes," incidentally, I was in fact homeschooled. Were you homeschooled? I probably should have mentioned that I was able to take tea each afternoon because I was at home. I took a quick glance at your article on Poetry Teatimes and it looks awesome...will read it deeper. Thanks for sharing!

  4. This post brings back so many memories. My grandmother had a huge collection of tea cups and saucers and tea pots. My cousin and I spent many an afternoon having "high tea" with Grandma Etta. We would go to the "good bakery" and buy blueberry scones or croissants to have with it. Today, one of my most treasured possessions is a tea cup and saucer that belong to my grandma. Thanks for posting!

  5. I wasn't homeschooled, but more than once I wished I was. When my kids were younger (they are 12, 8, 5 and almost 1) I planned to homeschool them partly because of those jr.high and high school years when I was envious of homeschooled friends and felt like I fit in better with them than with the kids at my public school.

  6. Lana, thanks for your comment. Maybe the allure of afternoon tea is not special just to me, huh?:-) It's amazing how many ladies have wonderful memories of tea parties. It's such a wonderful ritual for calming, connecting and feeling utterly feminine.


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