You sat in my suitcase, rectangular boxes of ceylon crushed between sweaters, shoes, and family photos, as I made my way across the ocean all those months ago.
“Maddie, I bought tea at the grocery,” my father said as he placed the two orange packages of Twinings on my bed. I looked at you and then at him, and said with a smile: “I think they’ll have tea in France, Dad.”
“I know, but what if it’s different? I want you to have tea from home.”
I remember thinking how absurd it was that I was wasting valuable suitcase space on you, of course they would have tea in France! And if it was different, so what? Everything else was going to be different. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to remove you from the collection of items I had deemed important enough to bring overseas. So there you stayed, accompanied by an army of mismatched mugs to boot.
You and me, tea, we have a long history. My mother likes to tell the story of going to visit my great grandmother on Tuesday afternoons when I was younger. I was about a year old and only just learning how to shakily toddle across the kitchen floor. During those visits, my mom would sit chatting with Nanny, who would have me walk across the room to her, offering up tiny sips of tea as a reward. According to most doctors, I was much too young for the drink, but the Irish immigrant in Nan seemed to think the practice was quite alright.
Tea, you have been a unifying force in my life. You aren’t simply the drink that offers comfort in the cold days of winter or cool relief during the dog-days of summer. And I would never dare label you as just a vehicle for caffeine. You are caring in object form.
“Will you stay for a cup of tea?” my grandmother asks me as I take off my shoes in the entryway. Tea, it isn’t really about you, but the conversation we will have in your company. With my grandfather in his rocking chair and my grandma on the couch, we talk about school and politics and how the Yankees are doing that season. And I become closer to them.
“I’ll make you a cup of tea,” my younger brother proclaims before leaving me at the dining room table to complete yet another college application. He returns a few minutes later with a perfectly brewed mug. Just enough sugar, just enough milk. It’s his way of doing something, anything, to help me through what he knows to be a stressful time. And tea, I’m going to be honest, I’m getting a bit emotional thinking about it.
From my father putting the kettle on in the wee hours of the morning back in New Jersey, to the electric kettle I plugged in next to my row of “imported” mugs in my apartment here in Reims, to the pot my mother sat on the coffee table when she visited me a month ago…tea, you have silently borne witness to my life, moments big and small. For that, I am eternally grateful.
P.S. Twinings Ceylon doesn’t taste the same in France, Dad. You were right.