There are just some memories, thoughts and moments that make you think – Mom. For some it could be the smell of her cooking. For others it could be her laugh, her smile, her way of knowing what was wrong without having to ask. Then again, that could be said for most Moms. Myself? When I think of Mom, I think of her crocheting, smoking while she played solitaire at the kitchen table, reading and then reading some more. And it seems always, during every one of these moments, drinking tea. That was my Mom. Sure, she did a million other things including raising seven children while keeping her sanity and sense of humor. And she lived several lifetimes before I showed up on the scene. She was a daughter, a student, a nurse, a newlywed, a new mother and much, much more. But in a bizarre way, our Moms don’t really exist without us. That is what makes them our Mom. So my Mom, the Mom that belongs to me, is a very particular lady. And in almost every single memory and manifestation I can conjure up of the woman, almost every one of those moments, has her with tea in hand. Hot tea. No milk, no sugar and no need for embellishment. She was that kind of lady. She still is.
With the exception of her morning cup of Sanka, tea was pretty much all she drank. (There was the occasional Sprite, but that was when she was feeling a bit madcap.) But it was hot tea for her, not cold. When I walked into the house after school, there she would be, sitting at the kitchen table, cigarette in one hand and a book folded down with the other. Beside her on the table was the ever present cup of hot tea. It could be at the height of summer and she drank it hot. There was no such thing as central air back then, at least to us. And who needed window units for one, maybe two months out of the year? Yet there she was, a hot cuppa in hand. She would just say she was warming up her inside to match the outside and really, it evened everything out. Her tea was even a part of our daily after-dinner ritual. The children cleared the table and did the dishes. Depending on what age you were, you cleared, loaded, washed and/or wiped the table down. Whoever was the eldest in the cleaning crew would boil, brew and prepare my parents their after-dinner tea. We would serve them as they played ace-deuce, a variation of backgammon. Our Long Island version of Upstairs, Downstairs.
Long ago my Mom stopped crocheting, the dexterity and coordination needed no longer available to her. Years ago, my Dad took on the chore of cooking. The woman I never saw without a book has stopped reading. And maybe several months ago I could have tricked her into playing rummy with me, but that Mom is lost to the ages as well. She is still here and I love her with all my heart, but she is a ghost of what she was and I mourn the memory of her. But blessedly, there is one simple thing that has never changed and I pray never does. She still loves her tea. Still hot, but with an ice-cube or two in the cup now. She does not always know my name, she may not understand what I am saying and at times appear to be blissfully lost in a world all of her own. But today, on Mother’s day, all I have to do to conjure up a glimpse of the Mother from my youth is to say three simple words, “Cuppa tea Mom?”
And so begins this week’s obsession, a shared one between my Mother and me. Tea, in all its wonderful glory; simple yet refined, subtle yet tasteful, sweet yet strong. Just like my Mom.