46: Tea in the Afternoon

46: Tea in the Afternoon

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Tea in the Afternoon

So much has been given to me, I have not time to ponder over that which has been denied.

~Helen Keller

I was born cold, small, and underweight in a country in South America, at a time when incubators were unheard of and the mortality rate for premature babies was devastatingly high. Lacking strength to even swallow small amounts of nourishment, I was not supposed to survive twenty-four hours. Everyone was resigned to let nature take its course… everyone except my grandmother. She had great faith, fierce determination, and bold ingenuity, an unbelievable mix of virtues for a simple woman who didn’t read or write.

Lovingly, she took me to her home, tucked me in a shoebox, and placed light bulbs around it to keep me warm. She slowly and constantly fed milk to me with an eyedropper.

Under her care, I not only survived, but flourished physically, mentally, and spiritually.

For years, I thought she was my mother. Even today, when “mother” is mentioned, it is her I think of. She, however, would often remind me, “No, I am your grandma. Your mother is that lady who comes on Sundays and brings us groceries. Talk to her; she is lonely. Someday, you will have to live with her.”

For me, it was inconceivable that such a severe-looking lady could be my mother. I felt as if I was the victim of fraud. When she visited, I would hide behind a couch. In my child-mind, if she didn’t see me, I didn’t exist, and then I would not have to go with her. I wished life with Grandma would never end.

Even under that cloud, however, I lived a happy life. Our small family consisted of three: my grandmother, our dog, and me. My grandmother was a frail, spirited, clever, small woman with worn-out hands, a sweet grin, easy laughter, crow’s feet deeply carved into her temples, and brown eyes that resembled mine. Her thinning white hair was pulled back in a tight bun. Most of the time, she dressed in a white shirt or sweater and brown skirt and shoes. My playmate was our old dog. Patient and almost blind, he would let me pull his tail. I completed our family, a skinny little girl about four or five years old, who liked paper dolls, picture books, pretty clothes, and had lots of simple questions requiring complicated answers. We were all snug in our humble home in a small town near the Andes Mountains. We didn’t have many material conveniences, but always had enough food and a place to live. Our life was peaceful, quiet, and predictable.

Tea in the afternoon was our favorite routine. My grandmother, the perfectionist, enjoyed setting the best stage for our tea. It was not just the tea, but the position of the table holding the tea. It had to catch the sunlight coming in from the only window in the room. Together, we placed the small round table in the best location. On sunny days, we put it to the south and delighted in the brightness and warmth while shadows projected into our teacups. On cloudy days, we opened the worn-out window to maximize the light coming in. The sunlight made us feel special, fancy, and mischievous. Then, only when everything was just right, we would begin our very own tea ceremony.

My grandmother made my tea in her own special way. A half cup of tea, a half cup of warm milk, and two teaspoons of sugar. She called it tecito, Spanish for “little cup of tea.” Our dog sat at our feet, lazily wagging his tail in quiet approval. Grandma sat in front of me with a twinkle in her eyes, sipping her tea ever so slowly.

I preferred to make it last longer, getting tiny teaspoonfuls, one from the lighter side of the cup, another from the darker side. I savored her company and the feeling of closeness, security, and love. I eagerly looked forward all day to that time of nourishment and affection. A very religious woman, Grandma talked to me about God’s goodness and the angel assigned to protect me all my life. Graciously and wisely, she was preparing me for the rugged road ahead.

We didn’t have a heater, and during winter our home was bitterly cold. Always worried about my health, she put me to bed early to prevent my catching a cold or worse. Then she brought me tecito in bed with her small, trembling hands. The warmth and the smoothness of the tea going down my throat, as well as her presence and devotion, warmed me body and soul.

Then, one day when I was nine years old, without any warning, Grandma peacefully died. My world crashed, and my life was forever parted into two: before and after Grandma.

I never realized how strong I had become under her guidance; her teachings kicked in, and I continued believing in God, my guardian angel, and sunshine.

Years have passed. Places have changed. People have gone. Painful memories have faded. But happy memories continue to live in me.

I live now in a different and faraway place. I honor her memory by living my life by the values she taught me. In return, I have been blessed with children, grandchildren, health, and life. And I am not cold anymore.

Sometimes, when I need to talk to Grandma, I wait for the afternoon and then deliberately, leisurely, playfully, and lovingly set myself a little table near a sunny window and pour myself a cup of tea. Then, I feel her love softly comforting my soul. It’s the two of us again, and I secretly whisper, “Thank you, Mother.”

~Nancy Bravo Creager

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners