From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

Got Tea?

I’ve known met Jenny since the day I started taking piano lessons from her mother. Jenny is blonde; I am brunette. All-American Jenny is tall and vivacious. I am petite and quiet. Jenny has a bubbling troupe of siblings; I am an only child. Her favorite flavor is vanilla; I prefer chocolate. Jenny took piano lessons because it was what girls did when they were young, whereas I made music my life.

Our favorite pastime back then was our afternoon tea parties. My first tea set was a Christmas gift the year I was seven. The miniature pieces were decorated with garlands of pink roses and delicate violets. The tea set was accompanied by a charming old trunk filled with all manner of dress-up clothes Mother discovered at the secondhand store. Jenny and I rummaged through the trunk, combining fancy hats, strings of pearls and ecru sweaters with gold buttons until we were pleased with our queenly appearance. We would sit across my child-size table, sipping apple juice and nibbling crackers from the tiny dishes.

Under the Christmas tree every year was a package for the dress-up trunk. Favorite items were kept in the royal collection; others were replaced with new fashion trends. When we were ten, Jenny and I styled each other’s hair before foraging through the trunk for high-heeled shoes. With wobbling ankles, we made our way precariously to the kitchen table to pour hot cocoa from Mother’s teapot into adult-size mugs, and sample chocolate-chip cookies. And always we talked about our hopes, our dreams and our music.

At thirteen, Jenny and I painted our fingernails with polish and our faces with makeup from the trunk. With a drop of perfume behind each ear, we imagined ourselves as Abigail Adams and Martha Washington discussing the fledgling United States of America, or authors Beatrix Potter and Louisa May Alcott debating book ideas.

For our sixteenth birthdays, Jenny and I pierced our ears. The old trunk held an assortment of brash, dangly earrings we would not wear in public, but which were entirely suitable for tea. Linen napkins across our laps, we savored real tea from Mother’s real china tea set, enhanced by slices of banana bread. We made plans to see the world. I would be her bridesmaid, and she promised to be mine.

Eighteen found us on the college rollercoaster. High school graduation flung us at whirlwind speed into the adult world of studies and jobs, cars and insurance, fellows and romance. Jenny’s life went one way, mine another. On that vast university campus in fast-paced Southern California, we rarely saw one another.

Except for one special day. We ran into each other on campus and discovered we both had thirty minutes before we needed to be somewhere else. With sudden lightheartedness, we dashed to the nearby café for tea. . . . orange spice for Jenny, raspberry for me. There was so much to talk about. Jenny had met a man with hair as dark as hers was blonde. Work at the art gallery and art studies consumed the rest of her time. I was simultaneously pursuing two doctoral degrees in music and squeezing in a few hours of work. And there was a man in my life.

Those precious free minutes turned into a stolen four hours, and we realized with a start that afternoon classes had long since ended. But sitting on the table between us was a teapot our intuitive waitress had discreetly set there before she left to carry on her life away from the café. The bill read, “On the house.”

I married that special man in my life. As promised, Jenny was my bridesmaid. My husband and I set up housekeeping in a vintage house near the college, close to family and friends and all that was dear to me. Jenny and I fit in an occasional cup of tea.

Then everything changed. My husband landed an excellent job with a promising future, great benefits and good salary, all in the field he wanted. He was elated. He said, “The move five hundred miles north would be a terrific adventure.”

Adventure? I was devastated. All I knew and was familiar with was here. I needed six more months to complete my studies. I didn’t know a soul in the new town so far away. I wasn’t one who made friends easily. What would I do there?

Moving so far from loved ones proved extremely difficult. I spent the first days crying as I unpacked boxes in our beautiful new home. Everything felt, and looked, gray.

Then came the first knock on my new door. Standing on the front porch was the mailman with a large parcel. I recognized the return address as Jenny’s. Dear, lifelong friend Jenny. Those horrible miles between us melted away, as I tore at the wrapping.

The paper parted to reveal a teapot, decorated with garlands of pink roses and delicate violets. Nestled next to the beautiful china piece was a matching set of teacups and saucers along with a box of raspberry tea. Her note read: “I know you will need a close friend in your new home. You have my permission to find a new close friend. Then you will have two close friends.”

Sunday my husband and I visited the nearby church. Renee, an effervescent lady with auburn hair, gave me a hug. “We moved here a year ago, and I know just how lonely you feel.”

“Would you come for tea?” I asked.

“I’d be delighted,” Renee said with a smile.

Months later, Jenny sent a smaller package, a box of orange spice tea. The enclosed note read, “I’ll be there Saturday for tea!” And so Jenny made her first of many visits to our northern home.

When I called Jenny with the news I was expecting our first baby, she sent a package of peppermint tea, to soothe my nauseous tummy.

It’s been fifteen years since my husband and I moved North. Renee brought me a beribboned package containing a mug with the picture of an angel and the words, “May your guardian angel keep watch over you when we’re apart.” Renee and her family were moving out of state.

I sent Renee off with a hug and a package to open on the drive to their new address. The gift bag held a pair of teacups and a note that read: “You will need a close friend in your new home. You have my permission to find one. Then you will have two close friends.”

Jenny and I keep in touch mostly by phone. As always, we are startlingly different. Jenny’s life takes her to exciting and glamorous places. My world is filled with my three children, carpooling, church and music.

Just last week, Jenny telephoned.

“How wonderful to hear from you,” I exclaimed. “But I’m in the middle of giving a piano lesson. Can I call you back?”

“I’m afraid not,” she replied with a laugh. “I’m calling from a layover in a New York airport. I’m putting a package in the mail, some delicious herbal teas from a little shop. I thought of you immediately. It’s some of those berry flavors you adore. . . .”

PeggySue Wells

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