Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tea and Shortbread -- with a nod to Proust

I’m having my first afternoon cup of (almost) fall tea - chamomile, sweetened with honey – and it is a moment to savor. The cool weather tricks me into feeling that it is fall, even though we are likely to have more hot days in the months ahead. And the overcast skies add to the illusion that the hot days are behind us. It is now almost 4 o’clock, and I can indulge in a few minutes of restoration with my chamomile, my Tuesday cup (which is rare in that it works just as well for tea as it does for coffee), and my shortbread cookie.

How many memories are generated by this single event? Memories associated with various senses jumble together to remind me of bits and pieces of my life. Unlike Proust with his tea and madeline, I cannot pull up multiple details of a single vivid memory. Instead, I feel a wash of memories, all detached from one another, yet somehow connected by the thread of my life.

The tea is its own pleasure in this moment, yet it’s also a reminder of countless other cups of tea which have brought comfort and connection on other afternoons. Tea alone enhances the pleasure of solitude. Tea shared with a friend is a ritual of community.

Uncle Cliff liked tea. Although I’m truly a coffee drinker, there are times when only tea will do. I remember times when the whole family was together and everyone else was drinking coffee. Having tea with Uncle Cliff set us apart just a bit, and created a link between us. I think he was the one who taught me to sweeten my tea with honey.

I have memories of tea with Uncle Jack, too. The last time I went to visit him, just months before he died, he was confined to a wheelchair and experiencing so many limitations. It was November, and it was Idaho cold. I wanted my afternoon tea. He had some with me each day that I was there, and we talked and shared as much as he was able at that point.

Most of my memories of Uncle Jack involve the two of us talking alone in a room while others were away or asleep. When we shared our cups of tea he still had some very lucid moments and was able to tell me stories of his friendship with my parents, his marriage to Aunt Elaine, and even some of the humorous things he had recently experienced in the confusion that surrounded that time of his life.

And the shortbread cookie? I remember my mom’s love for Pecan Sandies. She always had them in the house. I haven’t always shared her love for them. I could take them or leave them. . . until I began combining them with my afternoon tea. They then took on a whole new pleasure. Now whenever I have a shortbread cookie, I think of my mom, and I want a cup of tea.


  1. Bonnie, your story reminded me of a favorite project you had us do six years ago. We made a patch quilt from parts of stories and collage pictures cut from magazines. We could see-like that song from The Sound of Music that goes- "These are a few of my favorite things." Your story, like the project, shows that we are endowed with very special moments that are sacred, and fortifying. Thank you for bringing it to our attention ( by your teaching and examples) to always look for the "Magic in an ordinary day."

    Gratefully Yours, Yolana

  2. Bonnie I so enjoyed your story. I have written simular things about having a cup of tea in some of my journal writings. I have spent countless times enjoying a cup of tea while telling the Lord my thoughts and feelings. And He has in turn often spoke to my heart during those special times.

  3. Okay, so I had no idea Proust liked Madelines with tea! But, I really liked your reflections on tea and the special times you shared. Thanks! You're such an amazing writer. You should do more.

  4. Joan, If it were not for Proust, chances are you wouldn't be selling Madelines at Costco. :)

  5. Hi Bonnie,
    Of course I would love your story since I am a tea addict myself and a great believer in the comfort a "cuppa" (British slang for a cup of tea) brings.

    Your sentence "Tea alone enhances the pleasure of solitude" says it all. What beautiful memories you have of tea with Uncle Cliff and Uncle Jack. Mom was so right - the perfect accompaniment to tea with honey is a shortbread cookie.

    I am not familiar with Proust with his tea and madeleines but I can relate to the fact that his writings were hampered by his lack of discipline!

    Brilliant story Bonnie. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Bonnie, every time I read your writings I want to sit down with you and have a cup of tea and enjoy your friendship. You have such a gracious and giving spirit.