Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Art of Tea

I don’t really remember when I first started drinking tea but I do remember that my mother brought me a cup of tea each morning when she woke me up to get ready for high school.

When I was engaged to be married, I received numerous china cups and saucers as shower gifts. It was common in the early 1960s to have a cup and saucer shower to ensure the new bride would have pretty china in which to serve tea.

When I was first married, Brian and I lived in a small apartment that was heated by a stove in the kitchen that burned both oil and wood. I always had a pot of tea sitting on the back of the stove top keeping warm. When someone dropped in, I added a fresh tea bag and more water. Most of my friends and neighbours did the same. There was always time for a cuppa and a chat when someone appeared at your door.

Anytime there was a weighty decision to me made, a family crisis, or fatigue to be overcome, out came the tea pot. It’s the Maritime way.

I still start each morning with a cup of tea and some quiet time before breakfast each morning. And when someone arrives at my door they are always offered tea.

When Leslie moved out on her own, I lent her my good china tea cups and saucers to add some elegance to her first apartment. Several years later when she went into labour with her first daughter, she drank a cup of tea before heading to the hospital. She drank that last cup of tea before she became a mother from my personal favourite - a fluted china cup covered with roses.

Over the years, Leslie has collected a cups and saucers from her grandmothers and great-aunts as well. She also inherited a wonderful – and large – collection of cups and saucers from Todd’s grandmother. And when she moved into her current home, she bought two display cabinets to display her favourites.

Many years ago, I was browsing at an antique fair in Stony Plain just after my eldest daughter has settled in Toronto. I found eight lovely cups and saucers in Royal Albert’s Old Country Roses pattern, a pattern that she fancied at the time. So I bought them and sent them off to Toronto. We still drink tea from them when I visit.

Over the years I have rebuilt my own collection of cups and saucers. (Many of my original ones remain part of Leslie’s collection.) I have some special ones that I carefully packed and sent to Calgary after we dismantled Mum’s apartment when she moved into the nursing home. I have a couple that I found particularly pleasing and bought at estate sales. I have eight matching cups and saucers from my Noritake Tahoe dishes.

One also needs teapots and creamers and sugar bowls to go with cups and saucers. I have, of course, a variety of "regular" teapots for everyday use. I have the Noritake teapot, cream and sugar that came with my dishes. I have a silver teapot, cream and sugar that I bought at an antique shop because they match the Old English Reproduction silver tray that was a wedding gift to my mother from her new in-laws. I serve my tea on it now.

But the most precious teapot I own is a Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing, that belonged to my paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Nobles Burnham. I brought that teapot, cream and sugar across the country on my knee when I flew back to Calgary from New Brunswick after Mum settled into the nursing home.

I have shared many cups of tea with friends, relatives and neighbours but the most special cups of tea I share now are the ones I now share with my four granddaughters.

I take out the china cups that were once my mothers and they each pick their favourite one. Now that I have my grandmother’s Wedgewood teapot, we most often use it. We sit at the dining room table and the conversation often turns to the women who drank tea together many years ago from the same cups and saucers. They are always interested to hear stories of grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great grandmothers and great-great-great grandmothers. And I am honoured to share the wisdom and strength of the generations of women who populate our family tree.

On Monday, August 4th, at Tim Isaac’s annual New Brunswick Day auction in St. Andrews, I made the winning bid on 22 pieces of Wedgewood Queensware, blue with white embossing.

I now have four place settings that match my grandmother’s tea set. I can hardly wait to sit down with my granddaughters and serve their sweet treats on plates that match their great-great-grandmother’s teapot. And maybe when they choose their favourite tea cup, one of them will chose to drink tea from a matching Wedgewood Queensware cup and saucer.

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