"Taking Tea" with Miss Sexton

by Brenda Athanus
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yellowteapot2My large yellow teapot never moves from my kitchen counter. The inside has never been washed as long as I have had it and the brown build-up inside it is beautifully, perfect from years of steeping Darjeeling. If only Miss Sexton could see it. She would appreciate the years of brown stain from calcification build-up on the inside and be so proud that she is the reason it’s there. The inside of my teapot looks just like Miss Sexton’s teapot and it makes me happy and proud to have known her and I appreciate how she taught me to love tea as much as her.

I didn’t always drink Darjeeling. Miss Sexton and I drank loose Red Rose tea steeped in her English bone china teapot decorated with pale blue flowers and sparkling highlights of gold. It was beautiful and she used it everyday like it reminded her of someone.

Before I met our neighbor, Miss Sexton, I drank tea alone not wanting anyone knowing how much tea I drank when I was three years old. I told my mother so often how much I loved tea she began to worry. She lecture me constantly, “you’ll stunt your growth and be short all your life,” like being short was a bad thing caused by excessive tea drinking and not genetics. I was more willing to be short then to give up drinking tea. I continued to brew my Lipton tea, buying my own boxes with my allowance, drinking it behind my closed bedroom door. I loved the bright orange color. The taste was delicate with a rainbow of flavor like nothing else and all my dolls liked it as much as me. They always asked for seconds.

I felt happy watching the steam wisped out of my doll size teacup as I waited for it to cool. I always kept my small teacup and saucer in my room borrowed from my mom’s hutch where she kept the fancy dishes. My mother had children-sized everything including teacups. I liked how easily my little fingers gripped the delicate handle and how it held the right amount of tea. My tea was made with hot water from the tap because I was too young and too short to boil water on the stove. Drinking tea in my bedroom was lovely, that is, until I met Miss Sexton.

cosmosOne of our neighbors had a large, well-taken care of flowerbed planted thickly with only Cosmos flowers between his lawn and our white wooden fence. I had picked one or two flowers in the past that grew over the fence but one day I got it in my mind to pick my mother a BIG bouquet to surprise her when she came home by placing the flowers in her biggest glass vase. You guessed it, something else I wasn’t allowed to touch.

My flower picking was almost done when I reached for that last stem - the biggest Cosmos flower in my mother’s favorite shade of pink. I couldn’t resist it. It was in the middle of the densely planted bed. I was undeterred so I reached as far as I could and then I fell into the flowerbed, dead center. I lost my whole bouquet and started to cry when I heard the man whose flowers I was stealing come running out of his house screaming bloody murder. I hoped he couldn’t see me in the middle of the thick stems, leaves and flower heads but I was why he was yelling. I had picked his prized Cosmos and I had picked only the biggest ones.

He caused such a ruckus Miss Miss Sexton came out to see what was going on. She immediately jumped between Mr. Royce and me. She saved me from Mr. Royce as he was desperately trying to pull me out of his flowerbed without ruining more of his sacred Cosmos. Tiny, little Miss Sexton with her hands on her hips ordered him to retreat immediately and he did. She offered me her hand to help me up and suggested that I quickly pick up the dropped flowers and follow her. I did without question.

That is how I met Miss Sexton and that was start of the two of us taking tea together. She was beautiful, kind, fearless and I was in awe of her before I even discovered we shared a love for brewed tea. She was in her late seventies, I was 6 or 7 but we had a lot in common. She was wispy thin, and short or rather, petite. She always dressed in a suit, wore a pretty scarf and everything matched stylishly down to her low heeled shoes. Her apartment smelled welcoming, the sweet scent never changed. It wasn’t at all like our house where the smell of food changed daily. I loved how her apartment smelled: old, comfortable and elegant.

Boats at Saintes MariesWe would sit together 2 or 3 times a week and ‘take’ tea as she called it. We’d sit in matching mahogany-legged wing chairs covered in a thick pastel colored tapestry with bright white dollies on the arms that her grandmother had tatted. Once every few weeks we would tat together as she explained the knots and loops as we sipped tea. She never talked about her life, just mine but I never thought it usual, at least not then. I was her only company.

She’d make the tea and I was to wait in the tiny living room in the oversized chair. I’d sit taking deep breaths, repeatedly filling my lungs with her life and not wanting to exhale. I’d study the wall size painting by Van Gogh of bright colored boats (Boats at Saintes Maries) awash in sunlight on the opposite wall and I marveled at all her books. I felt so lucky to know her and to be her guest.

The whistling tea kettle would pull me back to the moment as I waited for her to reappear carrying a tray with her treasured English bone china teapot, a sugar bowl, tongs, a silver tea strainer, an empty plate for each of us and two matching teacups with saucers. She’d set it down on the round tea table between our chairs and walk to the glass front hutch to get the dark blue round tin of Danish butter cookies. It was always the same - she’d open up the tin and encourage me to take as many as I wanted. I always took 2 cookies to be polite. We’d sip our tea after she demonstrated, again, how a lady drinks tea. Yes, she had a silver tea strainer that she held over my cup as she poured my tea. Of course, she used sugar cubes and used bird talon tongs to drop the sugar cubes into my cup. Each time she’d ask, “one or two cubes,” even though she knew the answer, it was part of our afternoon ritual together.

We’d listened to classical music, talked non-stop about everything and sipped tea until the pot was empty and then it was time for me to go home before darkness fell.

Brenda Athanus runs a small gourmet food shop in Belgrade Lakes, Maine with her sister Tanya called the Green Spot.

The Green Spot
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