Afternoon Tea

“Grandma can I use this one?” I ask, pointing a porcelain teacup with small hand-painted pink and yellow flowers. The handle spirals from the side like the trumpet vine growing and twisting over her back patio.

“Of course my dear,” she replies casually, trusting, without looking. “But, hold it with two hands.”

I remember she once told me that this beautiful, delicate cup is one of her favorite. Carefully, I remove it from a white wooden shelf next to her Victorian fireplace and carry it into the cheery yellow kitchen. It is almost time for tea.

Grandma Chris is a fairy godmother. Every moment with her seems as though it’s straight from a storybook, magic emerging with each flip of the page. She is also loud, fun, and laughs at everything, even when it’s inappropriate.

While water boils in a silver pot on the stove, I grab my two little sisters and head to Grandma’s closet to dress up for our party. I grab a 1950’s floral print hatbox with rickrack ribbon around the top. Inside lives my favorite peach-colored, wide-brimmed hat with a big bow on the side. It’s a little big for a nine year-old, but I think it suits me well. Melanie, who just turned seven, starts rummaging through scarves as though she’s searching for buried treasure.

“Jackpot,” she shouts, pulling out a scarf with gold and pink flowers in a wild print. She drapes it across her neck and slips a pair of five sizes too big, black high heels on her feet. Her arms are dripping with gold bangles. “Ready when you are,” she announces with a toothless grin.

“Staci, let me help you,” I say to my youngest sister who is fidgeting to find an outfit that won’t swallow her tiny toddler frame. I know sometimes I baby her, but Staci’s only two. And some nights, when our parents are fighting, yelling and screaming in their bedroom with the door closed, no one hears Staci crying, except for me.

“I want that one,” she says, pointing to a small black hat with lace veil.

“Okay, you got it,” I reply. I also pick out a long, multi-strand, amethyst necklace and loop it around her head a couple of times.

“Bring me something fun to wear,” Grandma says from the kitchen. I grab a woven red hat and a glittering diamond broach. I wonder where she wears all of these fancy clothes, other than to tea parties?

As we head back into the kitchen, sunlight filters through a crystal prism in the window and rainbows dance across the table. There is a lace cloth spread over the kitchen table. Our teacup selections, a steaming pot of tea, a platter of cookies, and purple-glass cream and sugar pitchers are also present, and there is a small glass vase with yellow daffodils in the middle of the table.

“Good afternoon ladies,” Grandma says with a smile. We find our places at the teacups we have chosen for the afternoon.

“Would you care for some tea?” she asks using an English accent. It’s only proper to speak like proper English ladies while practicing their time-honored tradition of tea.

“Yes please,” the three of us reply.

Grandma carefully lifts and tips the teapot, with gold trim, toward my cup first. The pot is musical, and it plays Somewhere My Love, Lara’s Theme, from Dr. Zhivago. A soft chiming meets our ears as she pours.

“Grandma, what kind of tea are we having?” Melanie asks.

“Tea please,” Staci says, smiling from cheek to cheek as she kneels on her chair to take in a better view of the party.

“Earl Grey today,” Grandma says. “It’s my favorite.”

“Will you please pass the milk and sugar?” Melanie asks.

“But of course,” I say using my best accent and manners, carefully passing the milk and sugar without spilling.

“Would anyone like a cookie?” Grandma asks. Even though they are store bought and come straight out of a plastic tray and bag, the lemon crème cookies, now sitting on a polished silver dish, are delicious.

“Ooh, yes please,” we all say. I take one of the hard cookies and, not so politely, dunk it into my tea. I quickly place the softened cookie into my mouth and it melts onto my tongue, mixing with the spices in the tea.

“Pinkies up,” Grandma instructs. With that, just like magic, our smallest fingers rise off the handles of our teacups and sip the sweet, warm liquid. We are quite the little ladies seated around that table.

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