It was 6:00 A.M. on July 5. I was on my knees on the ground between a large RV (mine) and about eleven ceramic garden figurines. Including, but not limited to: a puppy; a voluptuous frog in a bathing suit; a spotted cow in need of milking; a rabbit in a sailor suit; a Dutch windmill; a frog playing a banjo; and a pair of empty ceramic overalls. I was trying to kneel silently where a row of Sweet William had been growing just a few days before. I was also doing everything I could to avoid detection by Miss Jewel, who was not only the curator of the ceramic collection, but also the guardian of the recently deceased row of Sweet William. On a tray next to me, under the watchful eye of the bunny sailor: four Sweet William plants. More than anything in the world, I wanted to plant those four perennials without being caught in the act. To be accepted by the Queen of Washington Street, none other than the 88 year old Miss Jewel, those plants had to be in the ground, not in progress.
Suddenly the peaceful dawn was shattered by the ring of a cell phone. Mine. Without looking to see who was calling, I turned off the ring tone and swore violently – but silently – at the unknown caller and myself. I froze, emergency shovel gripped in gloved hands, dreading that the sliding glass door of Miss Jewel’s tiny mobile home would open. It didn’t. Hastily, I planted each of the plants in the ravaged row, cleaning away all traces of the tire tracks (mine) which had hastened the demise of the former occupants.
Feeling victorious – even though the emergency shovel had a most annoying habit of collapsing – I returned the shovel and gloves to their cubby under the RV and cleared away the broken woody stems and root balls. I was surveying my work with a satisfied smirk when her voice rang out,
“What are you doing up so early?”
“Coming to ask if you’d care to have a cup of tea. Would you like to try a very nice white tea?”
“You’re looking at my Sweet William,” Miss Jewel observed, “I told you you couldn’t kill it. Lookathere, it’s just like new!” She pointed to the four new plants I had just planted, “Looks like there’s more pink, ‘though.” I examined her face to see if she was kidding. Not a trace of irony, mirth, or amusement played in her green eyes.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “they made an amazing comeback.” It was, after all, true. “What do you say to that cup of tea?”
“Did you say it was white? Never had any white tea before.” With simple nuance, Miss Jewel managed to make my second favorite tea sound like the pampered guest of honor at a debutante ball.
“It’s very subtle and sweet, and very good for you. Lots of antioxidants and other good stuff -” She still hadn’t said yes, but I was pretty sure she was going to. “But the best reason to drink it is because it tastes wonderful.”
“That’ll do then. I’ve got a tea pot and cups. Just bring along that special white tea.” This time there was a hint of merriment dancing in her eyes as she emphasized the adjectives. While the water heated, she told me about her favorite tea, a black tea called “Nabob” which her brother used to buy by the pound in Canada. “Why, these leaves are green,” she exclaimed as I filled her teapot with Silver Needles, “thought you said it was white.”
I spent the next three minutes failing to explain with any clarity why the tea was green but classified as white. “Thought you said you were a school teacher,” Miss Jewel acknowledged my inability.
“I haven’t been called upon to teach about tea, Miss Jewel.”
“Good thing. It does taste real nice. Probably costs a fortune. At least we don’t have a Starbuck’s in town here.” By now I was used to Miss Jewel’s abrupt subject changes. “Next time you come over, I want you to try some of my tea.” She walked me out to the porch and pointed to the Sweet William, “It would have taken you less time to plant those if you’d borrowed a decent shovel.”
This post was first published on the blog October 29, 2007.