First the love:
The rule for being a hostess for a table is simple: NOTHING HAS TO MATCH. So the women who “mother” a table drag out every bit of their fancy garage-sale-finds, heirlooms, and grandma-gave-it-to-me linens.
It’s charming. It’s lovely. It’s so much work. And It makes me as nervous as a fingerless-short-armed tyrannosaurus to pass around their delicate plates which are often as translucent as paper. That’s probably how the tradition of cutting off the bread crusts got started… so the added crust-weight of a pile of cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches (who thought of this combo?) wouldn’t make a heritage plate shear into eleven pieces when it’s lifted.
The amazingly architected cups (with bone-thin saucers) hold 4.3 oz of liquid which is about two good sips. If we were drinking like we were sitting at a Starbucks, the “Table Mother” would need arms like an octopus to constantly refill cups, but according to the Tenant of Tea rules (which were secretly handed down from southern woman to southern woman, allowing a sort of snobbish superiority over uncoached Yankees, whose participation in the Boston Tea party created a sort of unlimited right to tea supping), well tea rules dictate that a woman eats BEFORE she goes to a party. Thus she will only sip 2.4 oz of tea and nibble a quarter of a tiny scone with clotted cream.
Fortunately, this is Oregon, and the need to survive a frontier of logs, beavers, and 8 months of rain has left us with a culture that allows the delicate plates to be piled high with savories and at least 2 pots of tea grace the table: caffeinated and unleaded.
And then comes the guilt
I keep telling myself I should invest in some tea service doo-daas and help out with the serving. But I don’t possess a Martha Stewart gene. Honest to Pete, I’m too lazy. The only fancy plates I have are boxed in attic. They’re the type every Lutheran church possesses and doesn’t use anymore because we church ladies have saved soup labels and box tops and bought new sturdy stuff that fits in the dishwasher better.
So I buy tickets to the tea. I love going and nibbling at the dainties (because, of course, I’ve eaten beforehand). The admission is worth it when I think about myself handwashing/drying every saucer and cup, and then wrapping it and putting it away.
And lemon curd. I love lemon curd. So I’m glad someone organizes a tea, but now that Downtown Abbey is off the air, perhaps life will change and the work of the afternoon teas will go away?
Or perhaps not? Because what else can be done with all those fragile dishes? Perhaps some things won’t change?