Every morning in the kitchen on Lancaster Street my mother would get out the small aluminum percolator, fill it with water, measure the Eight O'Clock coffee into the basket, and set it on the old gas stove where it would bubble perk, bubble perk. The pot made just three cups of coffee--one for my mother, one for my father, and one for my grandfather to pour over his Shredded Wheat.
I always tried to be nearby when he opened the box with the picture of Niagara Falls on the front. In each box were four layers, each with three pillows of cereal. I had no interest in the cereal. (Amazingly I was a picky eater back then). What I was interested in were the cardboard inserts between each layer, and when Grandpa reached another layer, I got the insert. There were puzzles, and cut-outs, and other such things of interest to an eight year old.
I wasn't a fan of coffee either. I was offered a spoonful of very light, very sweet coffee once, and made the immediate judgment that the adults were welcome to it. Tea, on the other hand, was something I not only drank, but something that became a part of play as my cousin Bonnie and I planned and celebrated countless tea parties with our dolls on my tiny set of blue willow wear china.
My mother would make tea using one Lipton’s tea bag to a very large pot of water. Our miniature cups were half filled with this pale liquid. Then we would add a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and fill up the cup with milk. I’m sure neither Bonnie nor I knew about holding the cup with our pinkie extended, but we felt quite grown up drinking real tea. Of course, my favorite part of the tea party was not the tea, but the food that went with it.
We did not serve watercress sandwiches or crumpets. No, our favorite delicacy was Ritz crackers covered in peanut butter and marshmallow. We each had our own small knife to use for spreading, and sometimes it was almost a duel as we reached for the peanut butter or the marshmallow fluff at the same time. The tea was cool by the time we had devoured all the crackers. At the end of our repast the remaining peanut butter was streaked with white marshmallow, and the marshmallow fluff jar had peanut butter thumbprints on it. When the party was over and Bonnie went home, I would wash all the dishes and return them to their place in the corner cupboard, safe until the next grand feast.
Today I drink mostly coffee which I discovered to be quite satisfying, and when I drink tea, I drink it plain without either sugar or milk. In my dining room I have a few pieces left of that blue willow ware tea set. They sit quietly on the shelf. Most of the time I don’t even notice them until I do my biennial dusting. Sometimes a guest will ask if they are part of a set. I reply that yes, once there was a full set that was used regularly. They were the service for magnificent tea parties that would have made the Mad Hatter jealous.