I am not a teacup person. I don’t own a teapot, a necessary accessory for being a teacup person, although I do own a tea ball, one of those round metal things with holes that you stuff full of loose tea and set into a teacup and pour hot water over, then watch as a rusty fog takes over the cup.
Why I have a tea ball is as strange to me as why I have a set of elegant porcelain teacups, artifacts of a time when I wanted to become a teacup person. Tradition was stacked against me though. My mother was a mug person, which makes it even stranger that I possess her gold-rimmed teacups, a gift from a smitten sea-captain – but that’s another story. Maybe she thought I should have them so they could transform me. Maybe she thought they’d give me something to aspire to – sedate afternoons cradling a see-through cup while engaged in a conversation about the latest book read, the state of the rose beds, and the chops wrapped in waxy butcher paper waiting to be fried for dinner.
The teacups sat in her kitchen cupboard eschewed in favour of a thick-handled Corelle mug, a vessel better suited to percolated coffee that burbled near the boiling point on the back burner of the stove. Every year when I traveled home to visit, I pulled the cups off the top shelf and gave them a soak and a scrub in hot soapy water to remove the dust and grease patina. There was no tea in the house so I would pour coffee into a cup, holding it by the comma shaped handle barely large enough to tuck my index finger into, where the coffee sat mud puddle brown.
I don’t remember when the cups and saucers became mine but they now sit on the top shelf of my kitchen cupboard, and periodically I pull them down and shake out the dry, hollow carapaces of dead ladybugs and dust. I make a ceremonial cup of tea with one of the bagged herbal teas we now have in our home because, you see, my oldest daughter is a tea person. Teabags, in case you didn’t know, have become sexy. Upscale tea comes wrapped in silky sheer cloth tagged with sage expressions scribed onto the little squares of paper connected by string to the bag, that are dangled over the rim of the cup so you can meditate while your tea steeps.
My daughter’s tea mugs are very different from my mother’s Noritake China love-boodle. She likes a flagon of tea while she studies alone in her room, the door closed, her bedroom infused with the aroma of lemon and ginger to stimulate her academic aspirations.
A few weeks ago my daughter and I received several teacups from the collection of a beloved aunt who died some years back. My sister-in-law was a tea person though not, to my knowledge, a teacup person. She sipped from pretty mugs, modern nods to the past. Like her mother, she was a storied storyteller in the Irish tradition of wandering tales told over an entire pot of tea, elbows on the kitchen table, mug always full, one story swirling to the next and the next and the next. Her collection came from her mother and mother-in-law who were women of the China-pattern generation. Teacups for the bridal shower, teacups for the baby shower, teacups for the priest after the christening, teacups for the funeral.
Today, my mother’s teacups came out of the cupboard and joined my sister-in-law’s cups on a tray on my living room coffee table. I’m never going to be a teacup person. I come from mug folk but I keep the cups for the people and the stories worth remembering.