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A Cup of Christmas Tea

Do you have older people in your life who have set high standards and who have inspired you in your deepest being; some who are in your memories now and some who are still a part of your life, cheering you on? I do, and that is why the following story/poem has meant so much. I read it often in the Christmas season.

A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg

[caption id="attachment_1846" align="aligncenter" width="219"]A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg A Cup of Christmas Tea by Tom Hegg[/caption]

The log was in the fireplace, all spiced and set to burn. At last, the yearly Christmas race was in the clubhouse turn. The cards were in the mail, all the gifts beneath the tree, and 30 days reprieve 'till Visa could catch up with me.

And though smug satisfaction seemed the order of the day, something still was nagging me, and would not go away. A week before I got a letter from my old Great Aunt. It read:

"Of course, I'll understand completely if you can't, but if you find you have some time, how wonderful if we could have a chat and share a cup of Christmas tea."

She'd had a mild stroke that year which crippled her left side. Though housebound now, my folks had said it hadn't hurt her pride. They said:

"She'd love to see you. What a nice thing it would be for you to go and maybe have a cup of Christmas tea."

But, boy! I didn't want to go! Oh, what a bitter pill to see an old relation and how far she'd gone downhill. I remembered her as vigorous, as funny and as bright. I remembered Christmas Eves when she regaled us half the night. I didn't want to risk all that. I didn't want the pain. I didn't need to be depressed. I didn't need the strain. And what about my brother? Why not him? She's his aunt too! I thought I had it justified, but then before I knew, the reasons not to go, I so painstakingly had built, were cracking wide and crumbling in an acid rain of guilt.

I put on boots and gloves and cap, shame stinging every pore, and armed with squeegee, sand and map, I went out my front door. I drove in from the suburbs to the older part of town. The pastels of the newer homes gave way to gray and brown. I had that disembodied feeling as the car pulled up and stopped beside the wooden house that held the Christmas cup. How I got up to her door, I really couldn't tell; I watched my hand rise up and press the button of the bell.

I waited, aided by my nervous rocking to and fro, and just as I was thinking I should turn around and go, I heard the rattle of the china in the hutch against the wall. The triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall. The clicking of the door latch and the sliding of the bolt, and a little swollen struggle popped it with a jolt.

She stood there pale and tiny, looking fragile as an egg. I forced myself from staring at the brace that held her leg. And though her thick bifocals seemed to crack and spread her eyes, their milky and refracted depths lit up with young surprise.

"Come in! Come in!" she laughed the words. She took me by the hand, and all my fears dissolved away, as if by her command. We went inside, and then, before I knew how to react, before my eyes and ears and nose was Christmas past...alive...intact: the scent of candied oranges, of cinnamon and pine, the antique wooden soldiers in their military line; the porcelain Nativity I'd always loved so much...the Dresden and the crystal I'd been told I mustn't touch...My spirit fairly bolted, like a child out of class and danced among the ornaments of calico and glass. Like magic, I was six again, deep in a Christmas spell, steeped in the million memories the boy inside knew well.

[caption id="attachment_1847" align="aligncenter" width="700"]memory box We have had a tradition in our family to bring out the memory box at Christmas[/caption]

And here, among old Christmas cards, so lovingly displayed, a special place of honour for the ones we kids had made. And there beside her rocking chair, the centre of it great aunt stood and said how nice it was I'd come to call. I sat and rattled on about the weather and the flu. She listened very patiently, then smiled and said, "What's new?"

[caption id="attachment_1849" align="aligncenter" width="700"]handmade cards from my grandchildren handmade cards from my grandchildren[/caption]

Thoughts and words began to flow, I started making sense. I lost the phoney breeziness I use when I get tense. She was still passionately interested in everything I did. She was positive, encouraging, like when I was a kid. Simple generalities still sent her into fits. She demanded the specifics, the particulars, the bits. We talked about the limitations that she'd had to face. She spoke with utter candor and with humor and good grace. Then defying the reality of crutch and straightened knee, on wings of hospitality, she flew to brew the tea.

book page

I sat alone with feelings that I hadn't felt in years. I looked around at Christmas through a thick, hot blur of tears. And the candles and the holly she'd arranged on every shelf, the impossibly good cookies she still somehow baked herself...but these rich, tactile memories became quite pale and thin when measured by the Christmas my Great Aunt kept deep within. Her body halved and nearly spent, but my Great Aunt was whole. I saw a Christmas miracle...the triumph of a soul.

The triple beat of two feet and a crutch came down the hall. The rattle of the china in the hutch against the wall. She poured two cups. She smiled, and then she handed one to me, and then we settled back and had a cup of Christmas tea.

Niall and me

This blog post is dedicated to, and with fond memories of Gamma Ramsay, Aunt Sophie, Aunt Lottie and Mrs. Irene Baker (Lady Baker).

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