“Can I taste your tea?” she asked as she pulled away from her after school hug. It’s a novelty, I’m sure, because she’s never seen me with a great big tumbler of anything other than the dark, cloyingly sweet Diet Dr. Pepper that I’ve been drinking like water all these years.
It should have been an easy question, so why did it plunge me right into a great big hole of ick? I’m a grown woman with pretty great kids; I know full well that my tea is ok to taste. But I hesitated, did a mental rewind about where I got the tea and what, exactly, was in it before I offered a timid ‘sure you can, sweet pea.’
Truth is, iced tea reminds me of the women who came before me. First my grandma, my mom’s mom, whose tea was really bourbon or scotch (I still don’t really know the difference) that we all called ‘tea.’ I remember asking if I could have a drink; my mom snickered along with my aunts as they exchanged amused eye rolls and watched her from the corners of their eyes. I’m sure they marveled that she didn’t hit me, since she’d smacked them plenty when they were my size. I know now that it was because she was too loaded to aim, and that she probably couldn’t see through the haze of cigarette smoke that followed her everywhere. I always thought it was just that circle of smoke that separated her from the rest of us, but now I know it was the tea.
My mom’s tea was safe to drink. She went through gallons, it seemed, and always had a full glass unless we were in the car. Then it was Mountain Dew from Stop ‘n Shop. It was one of my jobs, to make her tea; great big glass jar from WalMart, six or eight bags of tea, cold water and sunlight. I had to watch so it got to just the right color; too light and she was unhappy, too dark and she was livid. I never liked when she was livid.
It’s only recently that I’ve been able to drink a glass of iced tea. I still can’t stand the sight of Mountain Dew. It’s a stupid thing, really, when you think about it. I know that drinking tea—heavy on the ice—or Mountain Dew won’t make me like her, but I’ve acted like it will my entire life. I know that watching MASH won’t make me a felon, and I know that getting lost in countless trashy romance novels won’t make me a mother who’d rather be anywhere else than home.
Still, I hesitated when that sweet voice asked to taste my tea. For a split second I smelled cigarette smoke and flashed back to those countless times I fetched tea for someone who pretended to be a mother without really caring what a privilege it is to carry that title.
Then I smiled and laughed, realizing that the tea I was handing to my girl was green tea with peach, something entirely different than plain old Lipton and unblemished by memories and twisted titles. For me, anyway.
I watched her face as she pursed her lips, closed her eyes and pulled the amber liquid up through the red straw. I said a little prayer that the memories she has are a world away from the ones I carry, and I sighed with relief when she set the cup down, hugged me and said ‘not sure I like that mommy. But thanks for sharing.’
Today I’m joining Heather of The Extraordinary Ordinary for Just Write. Read here to learn more about Just Write. In a nutshell, it’s a free write about a recent or current experience without adding analysis, explanation, or clarification. (I took this entire paragraph from Erin Margolin. Read one of her Just Write pieces, titled ‘A School Morning’, here).