Many years ago my granddaughter asked me if she could interview me about “English Tea Time” for a school project. It made me think for a second! It takes a granddaughter’s homework or a trip to a tea-drinking country to remind me of a special tradition that is part of my heritage.
Being a child of the Second World War, I remember when the bombs fell night after night and we huddled in the air raid shelter at the bottom of our garden. My mom would make a saving cup of tea, and she, my older sister, and I would drink it slowly, savoring the companionship it seemed to engender in our hole underground! It occupied our frightened moments and gave us something to do!
Every day after the war, when I ran in from school in England, my mother would have a pot of tea ready with hot baked scones and cake. We would sit and connect with each other before homework, walking the dog, or tennis lessons. If you would ask me how significant this tradition has been to me, I would say very significant, because I realize it made us stop and talk. We would pause in the middle of the day, look into each other’s eyes, and touch base. We’d ask, “How was your day? How are you doing? Are we all right, you and me? Do we need to say sorry to each other?” We would listen to each other, and then when the tea was gone in the lovely English china tea pot, we would go our ways and do our own things, so much the better for the sweet touch of interest and love over a cup of tea!
It’s not about the tea though. In the end, of course, it’s about relationships. It reminds us that people matter more than schedules, more than programs. Relationships are what so much of life is about.
Then I remember—grown, married, and in full-time youth ministry based in the beautiful Lake District—going back to Liverpool to break the news to my recently-widowed mother that we were emigrating to the United States to live. The car journey to Liverpool seemed to go by far too fast as I wondered how on earth I was going to tell her.
My mother had an inordinate fear of flying, and once I had told her, we both knew she would never come and see us. We both knew this was goodbye to her beloved grandchildren. We cried for a long time when I told her, and then my mother said, “Let’s have a cup of tea.” We dried our tears and found sweet relief doing something familiar and something together. Then after I drove home, I made a cup of tea and drank it by myself to calm my hurting heart. I knew alone back in Liverpool, my sweet mother was doing the same.
Then this side of the Atlantic after we immigrated, it was a joy to continue my tea time with new friends. I learned the new traditions from our American church family as we settled in. It was a joy to welcome people into our new home and say, “Please come and visit and have a cup of tea!”
Now many years later, I am realizing how easy it is to get out of the habit of this saving pause at all times throughout the day! It’s part of my upbringing and heritage though, and I am remembering. After long days, Stuart and I enjoy heart-to-heart dialogue over a hot cup of tea.
You may ask in what ways is this tradition unique? I don’t quite know. Perhaps it’s unique because drinking tea spans the centuries, the globe, the economic divides, and generations! I have been to India where we sat with our Indian friends and drank chai. Then onto Kazakhstan were we enjoyed tea with Turkmen, Uzbeks, and Tajiks! Then to Russia where we sat and drank tea with people from the Arctic Circle and Azerbaijan!
It’s a time to look at one another in the face and ask, “Are you being helped by all these words? Does it make sense? Can I explain more clearly how to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? How not to burn out? How to balance marriage and family?”
The essence of tea or coffee time is the old tradition of giving time to those I love, not giving things. As the summer months continue, I will try to keep space to stop our frantic rushing around, look each other in the eye and just talk. We’ll share our heartaches, joys, and love and pray over a good “cup a” as we say in the UK. Go on, put the kettle on!
Just Between Us Magazine