When my mother passed away, my sisters and I divided up her collection of teacups. We took turns and drafted them like football players. Which ones did we want on our team of dishes? There was probably slight bickering over who got to choose first, but mainly I remember thinking, I don’t feel grown up enough to have my own teacup.
In my twenties, the teacups, wrapped carefully in newspaper, stayed in a box under my bed. I mainly drank coffee on my way to work, and didn’t have the space for fancy teacups in my small apartment kitchen. I certainly didn’t have the space for the memoires they evoked; those teacups did not have room for my tears.
So many of my memories of my mother included those fragile cups. I would take a look at one and immediately remember …
As a child, while under the dining room table feeding my baby doll, I hear the clink of cup against saucer, but mostly I hear the laughter of my mom. Visits to my grandmother’s house usually involved tea, my aunts, and laughter. Although I am lost in a jumble of legs, I am able to easily distinguish my mother’s laughter from the rest.
In bed with sorrow camouflaged as a cold, I try to hide my tears when my mom brings me a cup of tea. I can’t stop crying over the death of my cat. I feel horrible that I am crying more now than I did at my great-grandmother’s funeral. She sits on the edge of my bed, tucks my stuffed bear under my arm, and shares my cup of tea.
Washed in early morning light, with teacup in hand, my mom bends over the newspaper in her faded pink robe and head of wild, blonde curls. She glances up and smiles when I stumble into the kitchen with my book bag slung over my shoulder. She immediately stands and begins to make me breakfast.
Her work is finally done. After hours of cleaning and cooking for everyone else, she is now able to lean back in her chair and kick off her shoes. My mom slowly stirs two teaspoons of sugar into her tea as she surveys her family, full of turkey and mashed potatoes, lounging around the living room. These are the moments she revels in – family, food, and laughter. She does not know yet that there will not be many more Thanksgivings like this.
The tea kettle hisses and spits, and I reach to take it off the burner. “Not yet, Sarah. It has to whistle.” The whistling takes forever. I question why we just can’t microwave a cup of tea and am only met with a glare. I stand impatiently next to the stove as my mom sits equally impatiently in her wheelchair, unable to stand and take over the task.
I eventually purchased my own house with plenty of cabinet space, and the teacups found a home. I unwrapped the fragile cups from the old, faded newspaper and placed them in a high cabinet over the refrigerator. They stay tucked away except for special occasions.
When the house is quiet after my children are in bed, and I finally have a moment to myself, I make my tea in a mug. I sense my mother’s disproval as I put it in the microwave instead of waiting for a kettle to boil.
Occasionally, my sister visits, and we carefully pull out the teacups. We sit at the dining room table and sip our tea while our children push toys and play with dolls on the floor beneath us. I laugh as she tells me how her daughter gave herself a haircut, or she laughs when I tell her how my son has taken to undressing and just hanging out in his underpants.
When my sister leaves, I nervously hand wash the cups. I am sometimes afraid that I will hold on too tight, and my favorite cup will shatter. I leave them to dry on the counter, far from the ledge. I am anxious to put them away.
My mother, however, used to drink out of her teacups daily. Perhaps there is a lesson there. Life is fleeting, this I know all too well. But, I want to keep these memories safe, so I carefully return the cups to the dark cabinet.