Hominy & Hash
KEEP THE KETTLE BOILING
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- There is a correlation between the rapidly boiling water and its benefit to the soul. Mama's face went from worn and weary to glowing as the steam rose from the china cup she held in her gnarled hands. At. that moment, she would say "There's nothing like a good cup of tea," though she had yet to sip her delectable brew.
"Nothing?" I would say. "Not even strawberry ice-cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry on top?"
"Not even that," she'd say emphatically.
"Do you know," she said more times than I can count, "that they did a study of the soldiers in World War II and learned that tea drinkers had more endurance than coffee drinkers, could march further, run faster, carry more on their backs ... ." and more of what I called blarney than I can recall.
When I thought of that later, I decided it was probably because coffee drinkers were more likely to be smokers and that wasn't factored into the study - a study, by the way, done in a very primitive fashion, I'm sure. There was a lot more going on at the time than determining who ran faster.
Coffee has always been my beverage of choice - originally, because I was a smoker all through my twenties and thirties and they "went" together. I'm still a coffee drinker, dark Colombian, freshly ground. I don't wake up and hit the floor running, but, once I've had my brew, there's no holding me down. Yet, it's not a comfort drink. It doesn't go with comfort food like Campbell's Tomato Soup or a grilled cheese sandwich.
Coffee serves a purpose but it doesn't ease away the cares of the day. There is no ceremony connected with it. I don't want it laced with mocha, piled high with whipped cream, and sipped through a straw. And, I don't want it weak.
Tea is tea. You don't give it frills and you make it the same way the ancient Chinese did: boiling water poured over loose tea leaves, left to steep long enough to suit your taste. In the South, you probably prefer iced tea - but first, it's brewed the proper way. It may have come from Asia but the Irish and English have turned brewing tea into an art.
We Irish, say "Tea isn't tea if you can see the bottom of the cup." I like it with milk and sugar, others prefer lemon and honey. However you take it, it's the pause itself, just sitting down for a good cup of tea, that restores the soul. You don't grab tea on the run. For one thing, it's hot. Very hot, if it's made right. And, as it cools to taste, you are given moments to reflect.
Here I am now with exactly these thoughts as I reflected on wanting nothing more than a good cup of tea last night. I sat at the kitchen table, holding the hot beverage two or three inches above the saucer, teaspoon resting in the curve. We never use cups and saucers anymore, just coffee mugs on a place mat. But, I have them - and, it was nice. I never perfected holding the pinkie finger outstretched as I hold the cup but even noticing that simple thing took my mind away from Saddam Hussein and the Iraq attacks to those other times.
Last night I felt comfortable in the quiet house. The warm, sweet, tea and the pelting rain took me far away from the World Trade Center anniversary memorials and reminders, the guilty verdicts for two young murdering brothers, and my frequent thought: What's this world coming to?
Mama's constant refrain suited me better tonight. "There's nothing like a good cup of tea." How nice it would be if the doorbell rang and a friend came in carrying a bakery-bought crumb cake. We would both laugh, get her in out of the rain, and shake the drops from her umbrella. That cake meant she could stay awhile, the kettle would boil again, and we'd solve the problems of the world just by talking them out.
That's how it used to be two or three nights a week in those kinder times when people were less frazzled and preoccupied with woe. Always laughter, always problems, always answers, always tea. Mama thought she lived in a high tech world just because the kettle whistled! She didn't have the news of the world alerting her through television screens, from newspapers and on radios.
We are told when and how to mourn; what to feel, what to do. Turn off all television sets, put on your headlights. Watch former Mayor Giuliani read every name of those lost while grieving for his mother who will be buried two hours before his scheduled WTC appearance. Is it assumed we don't know how to mourn? Will the time come when we really do not know how to play our parts without a bandmaster?
Comedian Jimmy Durante used to say, "Everybody's tryin' to get into the act." First Lady Laura Bush wants us to keep the television off. Networks last week said they would not overwhelm us with graphic re-enactments of the events. (I've had four days of just that.) Months in the planning memorials are scheduled and will be televised. So, which event do we focus on in this three-ring circus?
How will I mourn? I want to ask Mama how she would express her grief. I can almost hear her say, "Prayer and contemplation over a cup of tea."
If Mama were really here, she'd ask me to drink it to the dregs, then she'd read my tea-leaves, seeing my future in the patterns the wet leaves form. "I see a star," she might smile and say, "that is the symbol of destiny, the promise of fulfillment of one's fondest hopes and aspirations."
Interesting. I always hoped I'd discover what Mama found so fulfilling in a good cup of tea. Was it my destiny to find out just when there is nothing I need more than a good cup of tea?