Monday, July 10, 2006

Tea with Strangers

I know how to sew...mostly square things and straight lines, so I needed a seamstress for a multi-layered party dress. I got the name of one from my husband, who has to wear suits all the time for work. We'll call her Mrs. M. ~I arrived at her humble abode at around 2 p.m. and evidently this was the "tea hour" because when the fitting was finished, she ushered me over to her beautifully set table. This was my first time meeting her and frankly, I felt a little uncomfortable sitting down for tea and chit chat, but she insisted that I stay. Mrs. M was from Iraq and she began describing her childhood that was filled with fear, growing up in a country made of sand and the slight living conditions of her big family. During her thickly accented storytelling, she traveled back and forth from her kitchen, pouring floral tea and laying out condiments for a light snack. On the table she placed a bowl of walnuts, homemade apricot jam and sugar cubes piled in a small crystal dish. She layed down two very tiny spoons, one in front of each of us. I looked at everything displayed before me and waited for her to bring out some confectionery biscuit or crackers to go with the jam. She didn't and just sat down, still recalling her life history. My mind began to panic as it tried to figure out what I should do first, internally asking myself silly questions, "what is the jam for? I supposed to use my fingers?...what do I do with that tiny spoon?" I decided to take a long sip of tea and let Mrs. M guide me with her etiquette. She tucked a sugar cube inside her cheek, I followed. She picked up her spoon and put a dollop of jam on her plate, so did I. She crumbled some walnuts on top of the jam with her bare hands and mixed this simple concoction with the tiny spoon, I copied. Then she scooped up a small portion and daintily put it into her mouth. I mimicked every move, like a child learning a new task. Now I had a sugar cube and jam mixed with walnuts just laying in my mouth. Was I supposed to chew it all together? I was afraid of doing something wrong. I watched Mrs. M continue to hold the sugar cube, which buldged the side of her cheek, while she carefully chewed and swallowed the rest. I tried doing the same and in the process must have made a few faces because she began laughing and called me a silly girl. She continued talking and all the while, I watched the bump in her cheek slowly disappear, as did mine. She told me of her sister's death and the two nephews that she paid $16,000 for, so that they could come to America to be with her. She loved them as her own because she could see her sister in their eyes. Now her children are all grown and gone. She sews for a living out of her home and enjoys having tea with strangers. I smiled, wiped the mist from my eyes and told her that I had to get going. She walked me to the door, thanking me for listening to her stories. I thanked her back and we parted as she closed the door. I sat still in my car, memorizing the exotic treat of meeting Mrs. M. She called me a stranger, but treated me like a treasured friend. I started my car and reluctantly drove away from her house. I should have gone straight home because the visit was unexpectedly long, but instead, drove to the grocery store and bought sugar cubes, walnuts and apricot jam.


Blogger Turquoise CRO said...

This story gave me chills! I loved every morsel of it D! and you know what? Yes! I'm going to get some sugar cubes and some apricot jam, I already have the walnuts! I'm squirrely like that! I LOVE new recipes! I had a boyfriend back in the day from Brazil and he loved to put nuts in oatmeal!

11:08 PM  
Blogger Bohemian Girl said...

this is a delightful story!

well written. i felt as though i was sitting right next to you with a sugar cube stuffed in my cheek, following her every move.

well? was it tasty? we'll have to try that when you come visit.

"tea with strangers" reminds me of one of SARK's sayings..."invite someone dangerous to tea".

loving you. xoxoxoxo
boho sissy

11:52 PM  
Blogger Bek said...

I imagine you enjoyed it if you went to the store to get those three ingredients, yes?

Mmmm I felt I was right there in the room with you also.

You are a most talented writer Ms D.


12:01 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

Mrs M sounds like a tapestry, with so many layers and colours to discover. what an amazing woman.... and you were absolutely the perfect stranger to have tea with her, with all *your* layers and colours and stories. thank you for passing this one on to us, it was beautifully done... :-) x

3:06 AM  
Blogger bb said...

I wouldn't have had a clue what to do - you acted with grace and humour in the face of Mrs M, whom, you've portrayed as a remarkable woman. How wonderful for you to get the chance to step out of the ordinary and expected.
And I love the way you let your words unfold -great story, great storyteller!

6:06 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

This is a beautiful story. It brought tears to my eyes. The tea reminded me of House of Sand and Fog. The family is from Iran, not Iraq, but they put the sugar cubes in their cheeks, and drank out of the most exquisite tea cups.

9:46 AM  
Blogger dazey rosie said...

What a beautiful story! Being English I'm a sucker for stories about the rituals of drinking tea!Rx

9:47 AM  
Blogger my pink sky said...

this was like a story read right out of a novel...i want to hear the next chapter of how these two women's lives change and intertwine after having crossed each other's paths. how wonderful!

11:47 AM  
Blogger Colorsonmymind said...

After reading this I got chills too...didn't expect it...

I think I may end up with a sugar cube, some apricot jam and walnuts myself...giggle...

I will close my eyes and think of your tea with Mrs. M....


1:41 PM  
Blogger b/sistersshoes said...

turq. cro~ "every morsel" mmm i love eating

boho~ Den, you're the writer! but thanks for the compliment sis

bek~ enjoyable yes! thanks

susannah~ I'm honored to have your compliment!

bb~ I love storytelling just like you do

sarah~ I've read "Sand and Fog" loved it!

dazey~ this was the BEST tea ever...homemade tea leaves!

pink sky~ You'll here Ch.2 I get to see her next week :)

thea~ chills...yes, it felt like magical destiny!

You are all so very sweet to have enjoyed my story and to let me know...heartfelt thanks x d x

3:36 PM  

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