The memory of just how Toni – as I have always called her – and I reconnected eludes me. It was several years ago now when we started to exchange the infrequent email and hope that we would reunite “one of these days.” As second cousins – we shared great-grandparents who helped settle Montana – Toni and I only saw each other at the occasional family gathering when she and her husband, Rogers, still lived in Los Angeles. Since those days, Toni and Rogers enjoyed a long stint in Jakarta, Indonesia, before settling on the land Toni’s grandparents had homesteaded on Lake Coeur D’Alene in northern Idaho. But as fate would have it, our niece’s decision to accept a professorship in Houston paved the way for Toni and me to reconnect – first through family and then through tea.
That reconnection began in earnest just a year ago. At the time, I had just recently taken the managing editor position at T Ching and had mentioned the news to Toni in an email. “Just a fantastic site!!” she said of T Ching in her reply, as she remembered weekends spent in the tea plantation region of Puncak, Java and a month-long trip to India with her eldest daughter, her Indian husband, and their young twin daughters. As we continued to exchange emails, it quickly became clear that Toni had inherited her grandmother’s writing talent. So I broached the subject of her becoming a T Ching contributor. Thankfully, she enthusiastically accepted the offer. Toni wrote four posts for T Ching during the first four months of this year before the many other demands of life intervened. My favorite was her first, about the important role tea played in keeping her twin granddaughters calm and healthy throughout their Indian adventure the previous year.
As Toni and I slowly got reacquainted, Toni suggested in an email on Christmas Eve last year that we should “work on getting to know each other during 2009.” After all, the “Barrington clan,” as she called us – after our great-grandparents’ last name – had “diminished since the farm days in Montana,” so it was important to strengthen the ties between us and share our family memories. Early in 2009, we began to make plans. Toni and Rogers would likely be in Houston during July, soon after our niece’s first baby was due. It was the perfect opportunity to reunite.
A couple of weeks before our planned reunion, Toni wrote to finalize our plans to meet at a Buddhist tea house in Houston during our visit…and to let me know that she had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The good news, though, was that it had been caught early and the prognosis was excellent.
In Houston, we engaged in lively conversation, drank Prosperity Tea (my favorite) and Kao Shan Tea (Toni’s favorite), and marveled at the calm and tranquility the tea house exuded. It was a lovely afternoon, a hopeful afternoon.
At the end of August, I received an upbeat email from Toni, with some book recommendations and family news. She ended the email with the words, “All in all, life is good.” That was the last email I received from Toni.
This past Thursday, November 19, my dear cousin Toni, for whom life was an amazing adventure, passed away. Sadly, the future reunions we had looked forward to are not to be. But as is the lesson of tea, we were thankfully able to appreciate our moments together.