Ellesbeth Gracelyn Nealy is about to have her afternoon tea, as she has done for most of her life. On most days, since moving a short time ago, she takes her tea alone in the little sitting alcove of her suite.
Her grandson has caused her suite to be added to his house. It is not really sumptuous enough to be called a suite, but Ellesbeth thinks of it that way regardless. There is the small sitting area she now occupies. There is also the area that holds her bed. Behind one door is a small and efficient kitchenette. Behind another door is a nicely appointed bathroom.
Her chairs are old and have been reupholstered many times. They have matching footstools which makes it easier for people with short legs to sit more comfortably. There is a small round side table between the chairs with a very nice crocheted doily in the pineapple pattern atop it. Currently there is a tea service for two on the table.
Ellesbeth is not taking her tea alone today. Her great granddaughter, Grace Ellen, has asked to join her. Most likely it was Grace Ellen’s mother who made the suggestion. Ellesbeth is happy for the company no matter how it came to be.
Ellesbeth has prepared the tea, and because Grace Ellen is only 12 years old, her drink is more milk and honey than tea.
Ellesbeth has always prepared the afternoon tea in the same way. She uses her finest (and admittedly now her only) teapot along with lovely milk and honey servers that her husband bought for her when they were both still very young. She has laid out shortbread cookies on a fine china plate. She was not able to keep most of her things when she moved in with her grandson, so she kept only the most important things. She thinks she will miss all of her books the most.
The cups and saucers are light and thin and fragile, as is the teapot. They are nearly translucent. She has had them forever. They were decorated decades ago, by hand, to her specifications.
Each time that Ellesbeth looks at her tea service, she remembers the day she spoke with the craftsmen and their reluctance to break with tradition. She remembers how she had to cajole and bat her eyes and promise them a bonus if they would do as she asked. It always makes her smile.
In her reverie, Ellesbeth has lost track of the time. And so it is that the impatient tapping of Grace Ellen’s heel upon the hardwood floor has brought her back to reality. Ellesbeth looks a little sideways at Grace Ellen’s heel and reflects that it is not as much the foot doing the work as it is the furiously bobbing knee that the foot is attached to. Ellesbeth smiles again and draws in a long breath, but not to speak. She lets it out and reaches to place one cookie on the saucer upon which her teacup rests.
She tilts her head and makes a short and brief nod to indicate to Grace Ellen that she should do the same. Grace Ellen takes two cookies and drops them aside her teacup.
Then Ellesbeth reaches over, a longish stretch of her arm, and takes up the saucer with her left hand in one sure move. Not quickly, but not slowly. She brings it to in front of her without a rattle or jostle of the teacup. She has done this so many times that she is sure of herself and it is like a little dance between her and the teacup and saucer. Choreographed by time and habit.
Grace Ellen seeks to emulate her Great Grandmother and takes the saucer in one hand. But it tips, almost spilling. The quick reflexes of the young come to her rescue. But the cup chatters on the saucer and one of the cookies falls to the floor. Grace Ellen starts to reach for it, but Ellesbeth clears her throat and with a glance and minuscule shake of her head, stops her. Otherwise, it might all have ended up on the floor with teacup and saucer shattered.
Ellesbeth draws in another long, slow, deep breath, but says nothing. She smiles at her Great Granddaughter and takes a small sip of tea and a tiny bite of her cookie. The tea is still hot, but she does not slurp noisily. Many, many years ago, she had mastered the art of quietly drawing in air with the sip in order to cool the tea.
Grace Ellen takes a large slurp of tea and a large bite of cookie and around a mouthful of mushy cookie says, “GG, are you old?”
“Yes, my dear. I am old.”
“How old are you?”
Ellesbeth smiles and says, “My dear, it is never polite to ask a woman her age. But I shall answer anyway. I am 97 years old. What do you think about that?”
Grace Ellen is not sure how to reply and so she takes another slurp of tea and another bite of cookie. Eventually, she says, “I think that is very old. Does it hurt?”
“Does what hurt, dear?”
“Yes, my dear. Sometimes it does hurt.”
“Does it hurt right now?”
“No. Right now, everything is fine. I’m having a wonderful afternoon tea with my great granddaughter and nothing could be finer.”
Grace Ellen takes another slurp of tea and then says, “Oh look, GG. There are roses painted on the inside of the teacup. I thought the cups were plain. You can only see the roses when you drink the tea.” The roses are pink and very pale with cream colored highlights. When you know to look for them, they are almost apparent from the outside of the teacups.
Ellesbeth smiles again and says, “Yes, dear. I had them made that way. I thought it was nicer to reveal the beauty slowly and gracefully rather than laying it all out there in a rush.”
Grace Ellen is not quite sure what to make of that and decides to finish her tea and cookie in a hurry so that she might get back to her mother and the pies that she is baking.
Drinking down her tea, Grace Ellen sees that at the very bottom of her cup, a honey bee is painted sitting atop a rose. Her eyes go wide and she smiles with delight.
Ellesbeth says, “Alright, dear. Off with you now. Go and help your mother.”
Grace Ellen races for the door, but does not leave immediately. She turns back and says, “GG, can we do this again sometime?”
“Yes, my dear. I think that we shall.” Ellesbeth pauses a moment, but not long enough for Grace Ellen to be out of hearing. Then Ellesbeth says, “Grace Ellen?”
Grace Ellen peeks around the door frame and says, “Yes, GG?”
“Do you think you might show me how to use the Kindle that your father bought for me?”
“Oh yes, GG! I can do that, but later. Okay?”
“Yes, dear. Later will be fine.”
Grace Ellen scoots off and Ellesbeth finishes her tea. She takes her time and savors the flavors because a good cup of tea deserves respect.