Second of Three Posts regarding Teens and Tea

“No, Gram,” Eric interrupted the plump- and proud – woman I had just been introduced to as we celebrated his Master’s Degree in Journalism. “Rafe is the best teacher I had in high school!” I blushed, as one is supposed to do in these circumstances, but was grateful the reception had moved into the living room with its vaulted ceiling. I needed the space to contain my swelling head. There were those who had questioned my teaching of the Greek classics; administrators who had scoffed at the validity of Latin roots in the 21stcentury. “Rafe taught me to start my car using compression.”

The floor suddenly seemed very, very close. Twenty-one years of teaching the ancient classics; the five-paragraph essay; the perils of the split infinitive; the greatest of William Shakespeare and Mark Twain, the proper way to cite sources . . . but remembered for showing a kid how to pop the clutch of a colicky Mazda?

Oh, cruel, cruel truth. Since then, I have been stopped by half a dozen ex-students and reminded that my influence is far greater OUTSIDE the curriculum than within. Which is just one of the reasons I decided to set aside my lunch once a week to share tea with young people. The first session was “Men Only,” so it was fitting that the second session should be only women. Once again, invitations were delivered to six young women, juniors and seniors at the high school, about an hour before lunch. One young woman could not attend, but begged for a rain check.

“You’re going to be unhappy you invited me,” Cecily began, “I HATE tea.”

“You’ll like this tea – “

“No, I have tried several different colors and flavors of tea, and I still hate it. I came because it is so cool. No teacher ever invited me for tea.”

The kettle was whistling, so I set it off the hot plate while I told the girls about white tea, why it is named so, what its health benefits are, and why I was sharing tea once a week. After a minute or two, I poured the water over a heaping tablespoon of Silver Needles, and set a timer for two minutes. As I poured the tea, Karen stuck her nose in the pot and inhaled deeply. “That takes me straight back to Japan!” I had forgotten Karen’s obsession with Japan: she saved money all last year from two jobs to afford a two-week trip. She wore a kimono as her competition wear to at least two speech tournaments, and she has been studying Japanese on her own for two years.

“You know, drinking tea is like ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes,’”Cecily started. “The British, with their stiff-upper-lip-thing, make the stuff, drink the stuff and hate the stuff. But they all say it tastes great, and everyone else says it tastes great, and no one will admit it is awful.”

“You’re talking about black tea, right?” Elaine interrupted. Her first cup of Silver Needles was gone, and she was reaching for the pot to pour more. “If you don’t want yours, Cecily, I will drink it!”

“I’m letting it cool off a bit.” Cecily took a sip about the size of a water molecule. “Not bad, but I probably won’t stop drinking coffee.”

Ellen grabbed Cecily’s cup, “I’ll share yours with Elaine.”

“Do we have time to make another pot?” Annie put her cup down. “You said the tea could be steeped more than once!” She turned to Elaine, “Not all black tea is yucky.”

“Have you ever had powdered green tea, Rafe? It is whipped into, like, a froth. It was the most expensive tea at the tea houses in Japan,” Karen was whisking an imaginary whisk. “Hey, when we go to the overnight speech tournaments, can the girls come to your room, and have tea? That would be great!”

Next week, the Tuesday Tea co-ed.