I’m sitting here at my desk, having a cup of tea as I write: Ceylon tea, made with a teabag, in a white porcelain mug with black polka dots on it. The only concession to how I learnt to make tea, is to still pour in the milk first: and then to quickly release the tagless teabag into the mug as I start to pour in the just boiled water: I don’t scorch my fingers anymore, since this is how I mostly these days, make tea.
How to make my mom a nice cup of tea was one of the first kitchen related skills I learnt as a young girl… except of course “helping” mom bake cakes, trying not to spill too much as I tipped a cup of flour into the sieve held by my mom over a white rimmed, pale yellow sturdy porcelain mixing bowl in which the sugar creamed with butter and eggs would already be giving off their vanilla essenced fragrance and would be very tempting for little fingers…not only mine, but those of my twin’s who would be waiting for her turn to do the sifting…and of course there was always fighting over who gets to lick the bowl and the wooden mixing spoon: my poor mom probably tried her best to be fair and I do remember her scraping out the bowl herself, doling out last lickings: “one for you, and one for YOU” until we were satisfied that we both had had our share…..
Having tea was quite a feature of my growing up. I remember that afternoon show with Esme Euverard and Jan Cronje: “So Maak Mens” on Springbok radio in between the radio soapies, where the byline was an advert for some tea, maybe even Joko: “Vir die daaglikse katastrofes, drink ‘n koppie tee”(For the daily catastrophes, have a cup of tea). In our household tea was had, regardless of whether a catastrophe had happened or was in the offing: in fact, my childhood was blissfully free of any.
I wish I can remember exactly how it was for me to make that first cup of tea: I must have been around 5 or 6 yrs old, and I imagine that I would have been extremely proud of myself to be able to hold the teapot steady to pour strong back tea through the sieve resting on top of a fine porcelain cup. I am almost sure too, that the occasion would have been an afternoon tea with my aunt there: my mom and her just younger sister had tea every day of their adult lives together in the late afternoons, alternating lounges: they lived in the same small east rand town all their adult lives, until much later when my parents moved to a little farm close to Warmbaths and where my mom lived out the last ten years of her life.
Then there was morning tea for the whole family, made by either myself or my sister or my mom, but I often did the carrying of the cup of tea to my father in bed: that’s something else which I grew up with: my dad getting his first cup of tea in bed. I think one of the reasons I married my second husband, was that he used to bring me tea in bed almost every morning!
And tea with lunch after school, and late afternoon tea with my aunt, and tea after dinner: later, my brothers also had to share the ritual: there would be endless fights or rather disagreements as to whose turn it was to put the kettle on, who was going to set out the cups, who was going to measure the loose leaf tea into the just rinsed pot: at that stage squat, stainless steel, so seventies….
I often woke up in the early hours of the morning, and in stead of a quiet house with just the steady far off hum of the fridge, I would hear my parents murmuring in the kitchen, and soon the sound of the kettle being switched on: they were having a cup of tea and talking about those mysterious things grown-ups used to always seem to be talking about, years away from my own young beginnings as a married woman whispering intimacies to a young husband in the kitchen of a first flat together….
When my parents used to visit me as a married woman, our husbands already asleep, my mom and I would have late night cups of tea and talk…and talk, and reluctantly have just one more cup of tea before joining our quietly resigned husbands in bed.
I miss that: tea with mom… and as I type away here I suddenly achingly also wish that my twin sister, who lives too far away for a quick afternoon visit, would have been here now to share a cup of tea with me. I would have used one of my pretty teapots, and white porcelain tea cups, and loose tea which I still keep for the occasional really good cup of tea, when the teabag ritual seems too quick and mindless…. Or I would have offered her a selection of speciality teas as they call it from a rather wide selection from a shelf in my grocery cupboard: I think that she may too have opted for a simple cup of Ceylon and maybe shared her memories with me.