A while back our friend from South Africa invited us for tea. What a pleasant surprise when we arrived to find fresh scones, or biscuits as she called them, homemade cream, jam, and other treats all arranged beautifully on a table with tea cups and saucers - each with a different floral pattern - little spoons with cakes for handles, and a pot of Rooibos - a South African bush tea.
What a joy to be welcomed to a table so carefully and thoughtfully prepared!
As we began enjoying the tea and treats, I quickly noticed an incongruence between my children's gulping and gobbling and the delicate setting before us. "Not so fast." "Don't reach, ask someone to pass it." There were many opportunities for teaching table manners I'd missed at our boisterous dinner table at home. And everyone was willing to oblige sensing this was something special worthy of their best.
Between the "Mmmms" and the "Yums" we talked about books and people and events and tea cups and tea.
On our way home, my daughter asked if we could have them for tea sometime. And we have; each time excitedly planning what delectable fare we will serve. And even though we don't have all the gorgeous pieces of tea necessities, we make do with what we have. We've used plastic baby spoons in place of fine silver ones and zebra striped plastic serving plates instead of pretty floral ones. No one ever minded because it's the enjoyment of having and serving tea with friends that really matters more than fine china.
And our friends never seem to come empty handed (although as I'm typing this I'm realizing we always do!) They bring us a simple flower or two from their garden in a small glass or vase for our table each time. Last time it was a yellow flower cutting from their front yard, which when a bee sits on the lip of the flower, it pops open and PUFF! the pollen flies all over.
Knowing my husband who works at home would be able to join us, this week we invited someone new to tea; an older Englishman from church who has been home between jobs. Having been to his home for dinner before, I knew he loved deviled eggs and the kids recalled him saying that he loves just plain old bread and butter. So we baked a fresh loaf of bread and served it along with deviled eggs and a fruit salad.
He showed up an hour late due to some unexpected calls so we were all hungry staring at that food on the table, but we were glad to hear he was still coming and it was great patience training! He brought us some Ceylon tea and a tin of tea from Teavana (I saw one of their blooming teas at a meeting recently). He said he didn't like the flowery stuff so he brought an Irish black tea for us to brew and it was strong and good. My son didn't like it.
While we talked over tea he told us Ceylon was the name of Sri Lanka when it was a British colony. He talked about some of the places we could go locally to find fossils and rocks with minerals in them and he talked about the minerals with such awe in his voice it made the kids go run and grab their rocks to show him. He told us about his love of collecting stamps as a boy and shared how to go about starting one and asking relatives and friends who travel to send you something in the mail. He said his favorites were from Belgium (I think) because they were big and colorful. The kids have since pulled out all the mail they have to look at the stamps and start their own collections.
My son pulled out Our Island Story to show him our book about English history and flipping through it, he told us how when he was in school, one day he hadn't done his Latin work and when the teacher had asked him why not, he thought he was so clever to answer "Because the Romans are gone sir, we don't need to know Latin anymore." He said his mates thought it was so funny and laughed and laughed. His teacher made him write Latin sentences for the next month for punishment.
He told us his Mother had made him watch the Sound of Music every Christmas, year after year, and he knew every word of every song in the movie.
We never knew any of these things about this man we've seen at church week after week. And I thought, how really nice it is to have tea with people and to get to know them.