80: Monday Night Tea

80: Monday Night Tea

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grand and Great

Monday Night Tea

To everything there is a season,
a time for every purpose under heaven.

~Ecclesiastes 3:1

“Mom!” my exasperated eight-year-old pouted glumly. “That’s your ‘no’ look. All the other kids go see the Cookie Lady every day. Can’t I go, please?”

This same request had punctuated every afternoon since shortly after we’d moved to this new area of town. A lady who gave away cookies to small children made me wonder if we had made the right move. But surely, I reasoned silently, all of these children’s parents must know this person if they allow daily visits. Sighing reluctantly, I looked at the five eager faces outside our screen door. I took my daughter’s hand, bowing playfully. “Okay, Princess. I am your royal subject. Lead me to the Cookie Lady.”

Giggling in delight, the children pulled and led me, like a Pied Piper in reverse, I thought, hopping and skipping down the street past other homes that were similar in size and status to ours. The children teased to see if I could identify their homes as we walked on, laughing and creating silly rhymes to help me remember whose home was whose, and making up names when I didn’t know. Our entourage must have been quite the sight. “Blue, blues, that house is Sue’s” and “Christmas red without the green, that house belongs to Imogene” were completed with groans and more laughter.

Looking up for the next home, I realized we were heading around the bend and stopped in my tracks, suddenly shy. Our family had walked the neighborhood and noticed the half-dozen imposing, column-fronted homes on the bend. We had not yet seen or met any of their owners, and my neighbors and I were in awe of the social and financial power these homes represented. It was almost as if the bend contained an imaginary boundary.

“Come on,” the children urged, pulling me toward the most elegant home.

As they raced past me to the door, I was awed that the children had no concern of status as they listened to the beautiful multitoned chimes harmonize a welcome while I weakly compared it to the ding-dong of our doorbell.

I was completely disarmed, however, by the tall, elegant older woman who answered the door. Loving. The description came to me unbidden and remained as she gave us each an obviously homemade sugar cookie centered with a pecan half.

Business done, the little ones lined up on her porch and munched happily, allowing Magdalene Veenstra to introduce herself and smilingly guess whose mom I was. Imagined social barriers melted with her charming story of once offering “store bought” cookies, which were instantly rejected by several children who announced they would return “when you feel better and make Cookie Lady cookies again.” Five minutes later I left, bemused and wondering over a warm invitation to join her for a cup of tea the following Monday.

A junior-high home-economics class was my only preparation of protocol for that first visit, and I wore a skirt to honor her generation and her genteel nature. I was grateful for the sense of smell when she opened the door; my aproned hostess did not need to tell me she had been baking. I followed her to the kitchen with an anticipation that never dimmed over the following fifteen years of Monday night teas.

Leading me past her blue delft collection and through a luxurious formal dining room to the kitchen, she directed me to a seat at a porcelain-topped table from another era. From there I watched “the ritual,” as I came to think of her tea preparations, while drooling (inwardly only, I hoped) over the freshly baked delicacies that she’d placed on our English rose china plates.

A small but pleased surprise filled me as she sat and bowed her head in prayer. Realizing that this longed-for grandmother figure also shared my faith instantly drew our hearts closer.

From that Monday on, recipes filled our conversations — recipes for her famous pecan cookies and the almond-filled tarts known to other generations as bridesmaid tarts — then other “recipes,” for living, for walking the faith, for loving our families and eventually even for dying. Each cup of tea opened a chapter of a living history book with tales of war, the Depression, numerous presidents, life on several continents and the inventions of radio, airplanes, automobiles and television. But history came only after our time of prayer for family, including present and future generations.

Being accepted taught me to accept others; her childlike faith (“I asked God to keep me safe while I slept — should I now insult him and stay awake worrying?”) taught me to keep things simple. A favorite adage of hers, “Use it or lose it,” gave me inspiration to utilize my talents and energy. It was this very adage that gave me a final lesson.

Grandma V, as I’d come to call her, had asked me to read. Her hearing and vision were now limited, so I was sitting on a cushioned footstool at her feet, but the book lay closed in my lap. She had recently ceased most cooking and had shocked the motor vehicle department by voluntarily giving up her license with a simple, “It’s time.” I was distressed by her inactivity, so I sat gently chiding her to “use it or lose it” when she caught me by surprise. She leaned forward until we were practically nose-to-nose and effectively stopped my thoughtless chatter. I gave her my full attention as she looked me straight in the eye, paused for effect and said, “You ever been ninety-three?”

We laughed the rest of the night over her remark and my shocked reaction. As usual, though, I was on the way home when I realized the lesson amid the humor. I cannot lead where I have not gone. Ecclesiastes’ “a time for everything” formed the refrain to memories of ageless wisdom from the kids and the Cookie Lady.

Surely there is a time to walk before and a time to walk behind, but the time is always right to walk beside.

~Delores Christian Liesner
Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul

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