Tea is in my blood, though it took me 40 years to be comfortable with that. My grandparents came from Scotland, which, as anyone who has British connections knows, means “Tea” with a capital “T” and that rhymes with “C” and that stands for “Cure-all”.
Even the screen-play writers of Harry Potter know this, when, in one of my favorite bits, Ron Weasley suggests, somewhat sheeplishly, that the harassed Harry and Hermione have a cup of tea because, “My mom always says that helps.” Molly Weasley is right: tea does help. It’s in the British psyche.
My mother, being raised by good Scots (though in the United States), has this hard-wired into her brain. This was proven when her cousin and her family came as houseguests, many years ago, all the way from Maine. Living on an island means that people like to come for a visit. (Strange how no one seems to want to visit the prairie.) When we were expecting company, Mom’s hearing became acute. Every tiny sound from outside was a car and every car was filled with the expected loved-ones. (Which, to be fair, living on a seldom-used dirt road as we did, was often true.) Finally we heard a real car, and it was really them. We went running down the gravel path, Mom’s arms open wide.
Hugs were exchanged (translation: we kids blushed awkwardly) and then, immediately following the words, “You must be so tired,” Mom said, “Come in for a nice cup of tea”. The cousins BURST OUT in laughter. “We knew it!” they cried. “We KNEW it!”
Cue a bemused look on Mom’s face.
One of the kids explained. “We took bets that, if you were a true family member, you’d offer us tea first thing.” Everyone laughed, everyone understood. And the kettle was put on.
Yes, tea is the cure-all. But then there’s me: the odd-ball in the family. As a second generation American, the tea-lust has been diluted. Apparently Dad’s German blood was still at war against the Allies in this case. I grew up not understanding Mom’s need for A Cup of Tea in the middle of the morning, A Cup of Tea in the afternoon, A cup of Tea before bed. I didn’t like the stuff. Not even a little bit. And I felt, though I never said it, that there must be something wrong with me. Did I really belong in this family?
I tried to fit in. On our honeymoon in Victoria, B.C., Colin and I visited my great-aunt who, being a good Scot herself, offered us tea. In my great ignorance, I accepted – both the cream and the lemon – which, as any person with half a culinary brain can tell you, is nothing more or less than a curdled mess. Tea was (unfairly and permanently) relegated to the “gross” category in my mind. (My dear Aunt Jenny never knew of my foolish behavior that day and, unless she’s reading this from heaven, she never will.)
It took an airplane ride on British Airways, 14½ years later, to change my mind. I know, I know – airplane tea? How can that possibly have done the trick? Well, I was thirsty. And if ever I was going to try tea again, I figured this was the time. So, on the airplane flying from Paris to Berlin via London last February (I know, wrong direction: long story) when they asked if I’d like tea, I said, “yes”. The matronly flight attendant didn’t ask if I wanted cream in it – she just assumed that I knew the proper way to drink it – and she poured it liberally in.
I loved it. Suddenly whole new horizons opened before me, rising faster than London on our descent. “I’m not an adopted orphan from some non-tea-drinking country!” I held out my pinky. (Lucy would have been so proud.) I sipped like a pro. I inhaled the fragrant steam. I BELONGED.
Do you belong?
P.S. – If you ever plan on serving me tea, please, please have half and half on hand and please, please, please, in the name of all that is good and right in the world, look the other way if I nervously add lemon along with my cream. Perhaps you should have extra tea on hand. Just in case.