MAMA AND A CUP OF SWEET TEA

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Tea. I love tea. I love it hot. I love it cold. Rooibos Tea. Peppermint Tea. Hibiscus Tea. Ginger Tea. Masala Tea. Chamomile Tea.Tea with cinnamon. Tea with cardamom. I love tea. I love it in large doses…you know, in an outrageously tall mug or a cup that’s on the brink of being the next small bucket. (By the way, I actually have cups like those.) Most of all, though, I love it sweet. Oh, how I love it sweet. I cannot stand bitter tea, my tea must have honey like the world’s honey supply is about to run out and on the days I’m feeling cheeky: it will be sugar. I add sugar to my tea as if my taste buds will taste sweetness for the very last time in that one cup of tea, which really annoys my dad. Sweet tea makes me happy. It makes me smile. It makes me close my eyes and do that sighing thing people do when they know they’ll be fine no matter what happens. Sweet tea is perfect when you have it hot on a cold day and when you have it cold on a hot day. For me though, sweet tea is perfect because it reminds me of my mama. Everything I feel when I have a cup of sweet tea, I feel when I’m around my mum.

My mama gave me my first cup of perfect tea. I was ten years old. It was this small glass of hot, lemon tea with loads and loads of sugar. Goodness, that first sip. It was like fireworks went off in my head…well, that was partly because I scalded my tongue and my brain was wondering what I was trying to do…but the rest of it was because I had never tasted anything like it before: Sweet and tangy and zingy and whoa all at the same time. I felt like I hadn’t really been living until that first sip. Well, I’m exaggerating, but looking at it in retrospect, I should have felt that way. Anyway, from that day, sweet tea became a Mommy & Me activity.

I would come from school and would stay awake until my mother went into the kitchen to make her tea and I would stand there patiently, okay, not patiently, as she made her tea, added the lemon, then the sugar and filled her huge, like really huge cup to the top with tea. I got the having tea in huge cups obsession from my mama. Then she would fill my small cup and hand it to me. As time went on, my mother handed over the tea brewing to me and my goodness, did I make some messes. I took my mother bitter tea on very many occasions …and she would always send me back to the kitchen to get the sugar and a big spoon (Apparently, sweetness should be taken in big spoons)… and she would say, “Mummy,” that’s her pet name for her daughters, “tea is meant to be sweet.” I finally got the hang of it though.I’m a tea brewing expert these days. Tea is still a Mommy & Me thing, because none of my siblings never got into it. It might be because I’m the baby. I don’t know, but I’m glad it’s our thing.My mother has taught me so much while brewing tea. Yes, we don’t make tea, we brew it. There’s a difference. She tells me stories. She tells me her theories. She teaches me about life. She tells me about her childhood. I tell her jokes…or how I’m nervous or sad about something. It’s special. We get creative about our recipes these days and add all sorts of things till we come up with “concoctions”.My mama’s creations are always more successful, I won’t lie. I’m not worried though, I know I’ll catch on. She’s a great teacher. But, no matter how creative either one of us gets, the golden rule doesn’t change: Tea is meant to be sweet. All the time. Every time.

80716649ab6ce39e4ffc3af414a5c1f0I know you’re all wondering why tea matters so much to me when there’s usually more to Mother-Daughter relationships, like good cries and long hugs and other more conventional, deeply sentimental stuff. Well, here’s why. We’re not huggers.By we, I mean my people. Nobody in my family is a hugger. We hug other people, because well, they hug us first, but anyone who pays attention to us will realize we don’t hug each other. Now, before you go off worrying about us, take a few deep breaths, we shake hands and wave at each other all the time. So, don’t worry. I have always felt though, that sweet tea is how my mum and I hug each other and say, “I love you.” We also don’t say that verbally at our house. It’s too weird. Besides, it’s what our parents used to say before or after they punished us: “You know we love you…” So hearing the words has never really triggered memories of happier times. So, as you can see, the tea is really very important. For those who are having a hard time visualizing how a non-hugging mother and daughter show love through tea, let me help you out:

A few weeks ago, I had one of those annoying and immensely uncomfortable Ear-Nose-Throat infections. I was in my room, sneezing and coughing loud enough for the neighbors to hear and everyone else in the house went about living their life. Well, my dad asked, “ Kwani, you have a cold?” (Translation: Are you okay? I’m concerned.) To which, I sneezed in response. So there I was, rolling around in my bed, mourning my uncomfortable existence because I couldn’t fall asleep. Then, I heard the knock at my door. My mama’s knock. “Come in,” I responded, making sure to sound extra weak, just in case she wanted me to go wash dishes or something else that would involve me touching cold water at night. In she walked with a small glass, and I could tell from the aroma that it was sweet tea, I could smell the honey…and something else: a lot of raw garlic!! She walked in, quietly, as is her way, and put the glass by my bed.

I said, “Thanks, Mama.” Inside though, I was super-touched and overwhelmed by her kindness and perfect timing.

“It’s okay,” she said. She smiled. Then she walked out.

That tea was perfect, garlic and all. It made me feel better, my symptoms were completely gone the next day.

If you still don’t see it, I can’t help you anymore. Here’s the point to all of this: It’s been eleven years, drinking sweet tea with my mama, drinking sweet tea without my mama, but thinking of her every time. I don’t think I’ll ever stop drinking sweet tea. Till my dying day, I will keep brewing my tea that is just like my mama: Sweet and Strong.

I worry though, about when I get to Heaven and we aren’t allowed to pluck the leaves and flowers that I’ll be that crazy person who plucks Hibiscus flowers or Rooibos flowers, fetches water from the River of Life, borrows the largest fruit bowl from the Welcome Table to use as a cup and heads to a volcano, or a hot spring so she can brew herself a cup of sweet tea. I’m not too worried though, because I have this feeling my mama would probably be doing the same thing.

So, today, I’m going to drink a cup of two in honor of my wonderful mother. And for those who are wondering what this means, even after all this sentimentality that I have unleashed, here’s the short version: I love you, Mama. Happy Mothers’ Day.

Spare some time today and let your mother know you love her in whichever you guys have of letting each other know it.

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