Five miles of hiking uphill would land you at the cabin I was raised in. Water came from a hand pump, light from a kerosene lantern, heat from a wood cook stove, milk from a series of goats – always inexplicably named “Billie” – and fresh greens from our garden. My father hunted ducks, pheasants, and venison. My mother made bread, tofu, and wild berry preserves. We all fished for trout! In the spring, we gathered mushrooms, miner’s lettuce, and in summer, wild onions. In the fall we gathered berries, and more mushrooms. One day a week, we would rest, read, take a stroll, play Dominoes or Scrabble, sing with Mom while she played the guitar. For a child who had never known of television or the shopping mall, it was the ideal life.
Three or four times a year, my grandparents would come to visit. They would park their car at the end of the road, shoulder huge packs, and trudge their way to our cabin. While our high Sierra lifestyle was rewarding, there were many things we could not grow, gather, or shoot, and some of these things had to be brought in. My grandfather would always carry a twenty pound bag of brown rice and a few gallons of kerosene. Grandma would carry several pounds of fresh and dried fruit, a pound or two of loose leaf tea, new jeans for one of us, and sometimes a simple toy for me – a yo-yo, jump rope or top. All of these items were hugely anticipated and appreciated . . . but the thing my parents would hug to their chests when the packs were opened was tea.
Although I had those few simple toys, working with my parents on our five acres was my life. From the time I could tell the difference between a”pretty rock?” and a vegetable seedling, I was put to work picking up the former and weeding around the latter. When my mother made tofu, I was given a little bowl and cheesecloth. When my father split shingles for our cabin, I picked up and stacked the shingles. I learned to add by playing dominoes and to read from playing Scrabble or listening to my father read aloud from one of the ten books we owned. When I thought of things I wanted, they were mostly practical items . . . a rake and a shovel that were just my size; or a pair of scissors of my own.
So it was perfect that during one of my grandparents’ visits, Grandma brought me my own Child’s Tea Set. It was packed in a pressed paper box, and contained a teapot, sugar and creamer dishes; four saucers and four cups. It was beautiful, and I loved it! I was, at five years old, a seasoned tea drinker. I had made tea for my parents on many a work day. When I was nine years old, we moved back to the world of traffic and institutions. My only regret is that we never took any photographs of those nine years in the country, but I can still see my father and mother, sunburned and windblown, standing in the goat pen, each cradling a child’s tiny teacup and saucer. To this day I have the tea set, although one saucer was broken during a raucous tea party with imaginary guests.
This post was originally published January 28, 2008. Written by the mysterious contributor, Rosie Pussytoes, she no longer appears on the contributor page for T Ching.