Friday, January 20, 2012

No More Tea

I can't remember the first cup of tea I ever had, but it certainly was in the 60's when I was a child of single digits. I vividly remember sitting in front of the open fire in the country style kitchen. There was the big old red chair with springs in uncomfortable places. I was small enough to settle into the burrows between the large springs. Another chair placed in front of the fireplace was borrowed from the chrome dinning setting, definitely 40's model, as I'm sure my parents could never afford anything new. All too few occasions, my Mum and I sat up close to the fire, talking as she raised her legs placing her feet upon the brickwork above the fire. I guess one could say it was a true bum warming way to have a cup of tea, me and her. It was a precious moment to share with my mum.

As the years past and blurred into the distance, I cling to this memory like a torn piece of her apron held in my heart of the only real feeling when I felt close to my Mum, before she slowly crept away in her tortured mind when I was ten. I don't remember being tucked into bed or having stories read to me. Tender moments don't often come to mind. She was busy most of the time tending to the her daily chores, so I got out of her way. I would wander outside to play with my brothers, older than me, as I was the youngest of the clan of five. They were bullies, my brother next to me didn't like me much. Everyday he would whisper in my other brother's ear with a mischievous grin and devious glint in his eye. The action they both would take always had the same agenda of hurting me in some way. Many times I was physically hurt by them, but the harm was more emotional, so cries from me were absent, I silently whimpered and felt collapsed inside.

Sometimes I eagerly would elect to rise early with the sun and travel with my father in the old blue Holden Ute into the paddocks along bumpy narrow tracks. The vapours of mist would rise as the sun melted the frost. Sometimes the rabbit traps would be empty and others charged with a limp body. I had to cover my eyes when Dad grabbed potato bags from the back of the ute to assist a lamb or calf being born. I couldn't understand why I was never allowed to see something so miraculous as a little animal come into the world. The whole time I was with my father not a word was spoken between us, even when we came to a gate. I obediently opened it through an unspoken country law, waiting for him to drive through and close the gates.

I would stand as a miniature frame looking up to my giant of a father. I would stare at him as he drove the car, I would look at him as he worked with the sheep or driving the tractor and I wondered who he was. I thought it was normal that he never talked to me or looked my way. I never, ever felt his arms around me or sat on his lap.

My sister, the eldest of the family, had moved away from home when I was young. I later found she was my primary carer after I was born. She would push me in the pram, tend to my nappies and other requirements. I guess my Mum was busy with her chores of a demanding house. After all she had so many things to do.

There was an elder brother who would roar into the driveway and soon roar out. Several times we would come home to find his car smashed on the side of the road. My mother would have a scared vacant stare and her body would tremble waiting to see where her eldest son was. Dad frantically searched around the wreckage and into the bush around only to find my brother alive once again at home. I didn't talk to him either. It seemed that the boys didn't talk to the girls in our family, an unwritten law of our family. But then why did my mother not talk to me much either?
To keep myself occupied, I would go out to the bush near our house. There were often pretty flowers that I loved to pick. My favourite was the buttercups. I made up games with the trees and laid in clumps of grass and watched the shafts of golden sunlight dance through the trees. In season, I would sit in the nearby paddock making daisy chains. I looked out to the sub alpine landscape, made up of trees and green places filled with ferns and cold streams yet it made me feel so warm inside. Sometimes I would ride my aunty's horse Flicker, if she was in a good mood.  All of these things filled my day and I felt happy and it stopped me from feeling sad, lonely and profoundly unloved.

In our big old house, the wood stove was always alight except when it was time for Dad to change the fire bricks. The kettle was always on the side and would be pushed onto the hot plate and the air on the fire box was adjusted to increase the flame bringing the kettle to a rapid boil. There was a smokey, tin tea caddy with faded engravings of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip on two of the four sides. The tea pot was the same since I could recall. Mum or Dad would turn the pot three times one way and three times the other way before we could pour. This ritual occurred many times throughout the day. The consumption of tea was an ongoing daily ritual. Tea was drank for all occasions. In the morning with breakfast, for morning tea with large slices of chunky white bread and jam, after lunch to cool us as the summer temperature rose,  and warm us in the winter chill. Tea was drunk when bad news came through a letter or the old black bakelite telephone. It was tea that shared our life, our family, creating a constant thread in my life every day.

Over the years, I often couldn't wait til I got home to boil the electric kettle to make a cup of my favourite tea bag. After each child was born and settled, a cup of tea would greet me to celebrate. As I made important decisions to marry, to divorce, buy a house, take a new job, move house, holiday, caring for a friend, bury my dog, say goodbye to my children, to soothe me as worry and fear took hold. Tea tasted ever so good in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep, it seemed to take away my loneliness, it was my friend when others were absent. I had many a favourite cup that I would drink tea from. Sometimes I would pull out the very best bone china to drink tea with my friends. It tasted ever so good with sumptuous cream cakes and scones.

I explored different types of teas over the years, then one day I tasted the very best ever, in a lovely little cafe in Murwillumbah, 2009, the year of my marriage to my best husband of all. French Earl Grey with real flower petals. You see tea was with me at every turn, to comfort me and be in the background of my emotional register to remind me of those early childhood days. 
Fifty odd years have passed as I gently touch the textured tea stained quilt of my life. My body is aching all too often. My body whispers the need for change on may levels. Refinement of food is required and emotions to be felt. Many rooms of renovation are met with willingness, but the daily ritual of tea-comfort continues, ducking behind the door when change walk by until one day I come head to head with truth. Do I want to grow or remain knotted? My soul cleverly knows what to do. Each cup, over the last few months has had the taste of bitterness, the seasoned comfort has dried up. It's crystal clear, it's time for radical change, time for tea drinking to close. Its time to feel the truth of my pain.

The first few days are reasonable, then the earnest surveillance begins, my nervous system's alarm bells ring loud. Irritable, uncomfortable, shaky and sweaty.  A few quick sips to soothe her. Keep busy, erratic moments and decisions to avoid this horrible sinking feeling. On a recent Sunday afternoon, sitting as part of an audience for live music, I began to panic. An angry monster was awakening within. She was not being fed of the very thing that keeps her quiet. She was starting to bulge threatening to burst out of the seams and spill over on to the floor, screaming at the top of her voice...she was being shut down, contained to keep the peace, to avoid detection. A quick exit had to be found.

Finally, with exhausted relief, she huddled into her room fully able to spill all over the place the truth she kept hidden so dear. The thread of tea that kept her tightly stitched together through every known and unknown challenge was unravelling.  Shaking, intolerable agony, short jerking breathes finally gave way to wails of grief. Giving up tea has allowed me to connect to a grief that was taking up so much space in my soul. The grief flowed like tea from a teapot.

If I give up tea, I will loose the last bare threads of connection to my mother, my family. I lose my mothe'rs love, like an cup of tea finally dripping the last drop into my mouth, to comfort me, to hold me together, to get me through the next wave of disaster. What will I have to cling to now? Tea needed me, it had kept me close, it didn't let me out of its sight for one day for all those long enduring years. It controlled me, organised my day. Now it was going, soon to be gone. 

What will become of me without tea?  I will become free, free of self deception that mother's love can be found in a cup of tea. That I will never feel love again.  Tea had become my substitute for love. In the absence of love, tea had became the most predicable and reliable source of comfort connecting me to the feeling of my mother's love. Now it was time to let it go, to know that I could leap from the raft in the middle of stormy seas onto solid ground of REAL love. A love so solid that it forms the structural walls and stable floor of my house. A love that wraps its arm around every time I call for it. A love that never goes away and stands the test of time, the real love that comes from Mumma God. 

Love you dearly Mum. I miss the precious short times we had together and walks we had in the garden.

Here's to you Mum, one last cup of tea. Now I can let you go knowing that the precious moments of love between us will always remain within me.