Wednesday, October 11, 2017
A Story of Tea Cups
As my grandmother climbed into her 80’s, I think she recognized that time was winding down. And though it hurts to remember, I wasn’t too surprised the day she announced, “Your grandfather and I are going back to Canada next spring for one last time”. She and “Puppy” took a trip to Nova Scotia every couple of years to visit Pictou and Prince Edward Island. Although it was the place where my grandfather spent his childhood, it was a world much more fully embraced by “Nana Mac” who found inspiration in the craggy landscape and especially in my grandfather’s rich Scottish heritage.
I tried to visit my grandparents weekly, making trips from rural Western Massachusetts to their Boston apartment. One afternoon, soon after my grandmother’s proclamation, I found that she had laid a cloth over the leather card table she kept folded in the living room. But instead of our customary lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and iced tea, she had strewn twelve tea cups with matching saucers across the snowy cloth. Oh was I ever familiar with those beautiful cups – each one a different eye-catching pattern. They were all dainty and delicate as bone china is, but the varying motifs and colors had been deeply alluring to my young self. Of course, my sister and I were never allowed to play with the cups but they were regularly brought down from the hutch in the dining room and put into service for Nana Mac’s bewitching afternoon tea parties for us. We learned the value of fine things at her knee and loved the uniquely individual cups and saucers.
“Pick six!” Nana Mac directed me as she gleefully clapped her hands together. I didn’t have to think too long – I already knew which of the beautiful cups were my favorites. I shyly pointed to the two rose-sprigged cups first – one in coral pink and one in baby blue, then the very unusual harlequin cup, and at last, the three etched in gold. Nana Mac carefully wrapped my selections in newspaper and then placed them in a brown paper bag. When she finished, she leaned into me with a conspiratorial wink and whisper, “You selected all my favorites”. I was delighted when after that chicken salad and iced tea lunch, the plain paper bag with its fragile treasures was thrust into my arms with a kiss.
Nana Mac never did make that final journey to her beloved Nova Scotia with my grandfather. She died unexpectedly on a clear cold morning in early winter. And it wasn’t until spring that year when my sister finally opened her own bundle of cups and saucers. As we poured hot tea into two of the precious bestowals, I noticed my sister’s voice becoming thick and soft with emotion. “Nana said she saved her favorites for me”. Or so I thought I heard her whisper…