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Cups of Companionship

February 20th, 2012 by admin

This week we introduce a new feature to the Blog that we’re calling Steeped in Memories. In it, we will periodically feature tea-related remembrances and stories written by Mighty Leaf fans. If you have a piece that you’d like to share, contact steepedinmemories@gmail.com.

To begin the series, we’re proud to feature the work of longtime tea lover Christy Birmingham. She has written a lovely tribute to her grandmother and the soothing power of a shared pot of tea.

With a wide smile I thankfully accepted grandma’s first phone invitation to dinner. I had been in Vancouver, BC, Canada for merely a month and loneliness hung heavy on me like a wet jacket.

My new surroundings included a roommate who locked herself in her bedroom for hours on her computer. There was little interaction other than the clicking of the keys I heard with my ear against her closed door. My second roommate (yes there were two) was easier to speak to but rarely at home as her boyfriend liked to take her out during the evenings.

My hometown of Victoria, BC seemed much farther away than the hour and a half ferry ride. I cried almost every time I received a phone call from my parents. That is, if my roommates were not already on the phone line.

I drank alone from my plain white teapot each morning before heading to the bus stop. A short commute up a steep hill took me to Simon Fraser University, the reason why I left Victoria. Trying to find my classrooms, I looked up at room numbers and corridor signs as I walked rather than looking into the faces of students walking by me. Occasionally one would brush my arm. Contact was made for a fleeting second. I was twenty-one and living on my own for the first time.

When grandma Norah opened the door to me on that first visit, her thin, pale arms swiftly circled my waist for a strong hug. I quickly recovered my balance and leaned forward over her frame to return the hug. We did not speak. Neither of us needed words.

This was my first visit to see grandma without my parents. It was an unexpected plus that my grandparents’ condo was only a ten minute walk from my basement suite.

While she tended to heating up the store-bought lasagna, I grabbed the plates and silverware from the drawers as she instructed me. I wondered if my parents were missing me at their kitchen table. I tried to memorize which drawer held the utensils for future reference.

After dinner she retrieved the familiar white rectangular canister labeled “tea” from the kitchen counter. She always followed her evening meal with a cup of Earl Grey.

Grandma let me choose our china cups from the kitchen cabinet. Each cup had a matching saucer but the sets did not match one another. Each set was unique with floral and spiral patterns of various hues. I recalled seeing many of them when I was a child.

I used to imagine her hosting events with her closest female friends, the ladies bringing my grandmother hand-crocheted tea-cozies and coasters as hostess gifts. The ladies sat with perfect posture as they drank from the cups I now graze with my fingers. They discussed their husbands’ jobs and the latest specials at the corner food market.

As we sat on the living room couch, I gazed at grandma’s teapot adorned with yellow and deep purple flowers. She explained that she had used the teapot for years when serving company. I marveled at the steady hand that painted such intricate artwork and the round plumpness of the porcelain base. A crack in the lid signified the many times this pot had been filled.

At the end of the visit grandma clutched my hand in her own, squeezing her fingers around my palm. Her hands felt soft and the warmth lasted longer than the handshake I had given my Criminology professor last week. As with the earlier hug, there were no words.

It was dark as I walked with quick steps back to my suite. I kept to the middle of the three roads before I reached my front door, for fear of being mugged by a stranger. I was comforted by the notion that grandma’s friendly face was close by.

I wondered if she would mind if I bought similar cups to those kept in her cupboard. Perhaps my roommates would allow me extra room on the kitchen shelves for my new set. My pale blue mug that I had used since I was a youth suddenly seemed better suited for storage as a memento rather than usage on a regular basis. I was excited by what else I might find in an outing to a china store.

Visits soon multiplied as grandma Norah welcomed me weekly for meals, cups of tea, and more hugs. My recall of our visits is vivid. My memories are as beloved as the china mugs and saucers from which we drank. It is a year ago that we lost this dear woman at the impressive age of one hundred.

As I lean back today in my chair, I take a sip of chamomile tea and raise my cup to her memory. I think of the warmth and comfort I felt as her arms surrounded me. I savor how the warm liquid surrounds my throat as I take another sip.

–Christy Birmingham

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