My mother is British, and, like many Brits, drinks copious amounts of tea. When I was a child, growing up near Boston, I used a tea set that she’d had when she was a girl in England during WW2, that I simply adored. Heavy earthenware, demitasse cups and saucers, in all the creamy pastel colors that I pretty much have never liked anywhere else. My tea was mostly milk and sugar, but when I drank from those cups, pinky loose, not affected, I felt a connection to my British heritage, to my mother, and to an adult life that I was trying on in very small sweetly caffeinated doses.
A couple of years ago, when my girls were getting to be about the age I was when I started having tea parties with that magical set, I went looking for it in my parents’ china closet, but no luck. I asked my mom where she had stored it, figuring that she had put it somewhere really safe, or specifically for me, like maybe in my bedroom closet or something. “Oh, I got rid of it years ago,” she responded, as if she was stunned she had held onto it as long as she had. I was beyond mad; I felt betrayed. That was my childhood connection to her homeland, to my grandmother, to my visions of myself as an adult, and she didn’t even remember what she had done with it?!? Donated it? Given it away? Binned it outright? She didn’t understand my shocked fury *at all*. “They didn’t even match!” she semi-shrieked, not seeing them through my five-year old eyes: to me they were colorful tiny cups of goodness, glossy like petit fours, all yummy and special and unique, making me hers and England’s.
We completely didn’t understand one another, and wouldn’t for about a year. She found one saucer that had gotten overlooked in her purge, and showed it to me as a peace offering. It helped, and she apologized for getting rid of the rest of it, but, far more importantly, she told me what that very same set of pastel colored earthen ware demitasse cups meant to her…
Like a similar set she’d grown up with, they were made during the war; made to be indesctructible, they were heavy, thick, clunky earthen ware, and small too, barely holding a few swallows of tea. She’d grown up living out of ration books, and drinking out of those cups, hearing stories of the fine and delicate and gloriously matching things that her mother and grandmother had had before the war. She saw them treat a few pieces that remained from that era with such reverence, and was forbidden to touch them.
To me that set was a gateway to adult life, a connection with a more refined era, and a sweet, colorful treat that I could share with my mother and the culture of her birth. To my mother it was a reminder of the fear of war, of deprivation, of ugliness, and of being a powerless child in a limited world gone past its prime.
Her *actions* made me feel unheard, unseen, and my feelings and history unvalued. It made the joy of connection I felt with she and my grandmother over those childhood tea parties in to a fantasy, if not a farce. But her *words*, when a year later she finally shared them with me, built a new bridge, and new views of those same treasured scenes: those hated cups HAD been in her cupboard during my childhood, not left on a store shelf, or in the china closet downstairs, and she HAD shared many lovely tea parties with me using them. She had wanted that connection with me enough to put up with the hated (but very sturdy) cups to begin with.
The words matter.**Set of 4 cups-with-saucers available for $28 from TennisTrainer.com. These are large, and I guess the stripes are supposed to make them look like tennis balls, but they are the right proportions, and the right petit four yellow. Even just the picture makes me happy.