It was with some trepidation that I anticipated the task at hand. Many years had passed since my mother’s death and it had already been a year and a half since my father’s. Now, with the passing of my stepmother, the time had come to sort through what remained of my parents’ belongings. At first, I approached it as a somber undertaking. That view, however, quickly changed as one discovery after another brought back happy memories long not recalled.
The mottled ceramic cookie jar fired to perfection in shades of black, white, and gray and painstakingly glued back together again after a fall left it in more than a few pieces. The scrolls of building plans, a normal fixture in a home occupied by an architect. The delicate, ridged, purple water glasses from Mexico. The wonderful books from small presses, works of art beyond the printed word. They were all there to coax memories to the surface.
One item, in particular, instantly bridged the earlier me with the present one – a tea set. The moment I saw it, a flood of memories nearly overwhelmed me. For the most part, my parents were coffee drinkers. Disdainful of instant or low-quality coffee, they were one of the early adopters of the high-end variety, opting to grind their own beans and fresh brew every pot. Occasionally, though, they brought out the tea. Frankly, I no longer remember whether they used loose-leaf tea or tea bags, probably because they always served tea in a pot, already brewed to perfection, with no evidence of tea leaves. Although my parents were big believers in variety being the spice of life, they were not very adventuresome when it came to tea – it was always black and there were always sugar cubes and cream at the ready, if desired. Quite British actually – which, given that my mother lived in both Britain and India as a young woman, is perhaps not so surprising.
When tea was served and the occasion was special, my parents opted for their brown-and-white Zaalberg tea set – a tea pot, six tea cups, six saucers, a sugar bowl with a lid, and a cream pitcher. It was elegant, but simple, with a clear Asian influence, and formal without being stuffy. As a kid, I loved it. It was fun – and decidedly grown up – to be served tea in a pot. Of course, there were always plenty of yummy cookies and other sweet delicacies to sample with the tea. All in all, it made for a magical experience.
Now the Zaalberg tea set has a new home in mine. For the first time in its long life, it is branching out and hosting teas other than black. This past week, my husband and I steeped an organic loose-leaf white peony in what is now our Zaalberg tea pot. It was heavenly.