Maybe it goes without saying, but there is something deeply important about knowing that you are loved. As humans, we have a need to know that we are part of a family, that we are accepted, that we have people who are in our corner and who want what’s best for us. These are the people in our lives who hold us to no expectations except that we would be present, enjoying time sitting around the table.
It’s been more than fifteen years since I left Newfoundland. Almost half of my life has been lived apart from my family and some of the people that I care more about than anyone else in the world. Those fifteen years have seen a lot of change; In many ways, I feel like a completely different person. Still, in spite of it all, I’ve always known that I could go home to a family that was loving, accepting, and genuinely happy to see me.
Perhaps no one was happier than my grandmother.
It became a treasured ritual on those mornings when Kristy and I were staying at my parent’s house, to wake up, eat breakfast with my parents, and get ready to go visit at my grandmother’s house. We would joke, of course, of the pointlessness of eating breakfast, knowing that we were about be served an unending course of tea, and bread, and cookies, and whatever else might have been in my grandmother’s refrigerator. We would put the leash on our dog, pull on a coat, and walk slowly across the garden to where my grandmother lived. It became important for me in recent years to take everything in. The sight of the fog hanging in the air. The smell of the salt wafting in from the bay. The seabirds calling out to one another.
This is home, you see. And this is a beautiful place.
We would make just one stop, reverently holding up at my grandfather’s shed, peering in through the windows. During the last few years of his own life, when his eyesight had begun to fade, this felt important to me. Somehow, I was checking in on everything as if I had the opportunity to see things for him. After a few moments, we would walk the last few feet down the hill, smiling in anticipation of the time we were about to have.
Nan would always be there to greet us, with big, loving hugs. It was a great reminder that we were deeply loved and cared for. The other reminder was the speed with which the kettle was put on for tea.
She would immediately insist that we take a seat at the table as she set about, puttering around the kitchen. She filled the kettle and prepped the teapot. There was enough bread to feed a small army. This was full hostess mode. We would hear her muttering about the state of the butter dish or the fact that she didn’t have anything sweet besides chocolate chip cookies to put on the table. The only time she would stop and turn around would be to ask a question like, “You want a bit of cheese with that?”
It’s important to note that, though formed as a question, this was more of an announcement. She may as well have said, “I am getting ready to add cheese to the already generous spread.”
Eventually, the kettle would boil and the tea would steep. Nan would finally sit down, rarely partaking of the food she just put out, opting instead for a glass of Diet Pepsi. Now, though, was when the conversation was really able to begin. She would always be sure to keep us informed of what had been happening with the family, spread across the country. You knew when there was something she liked and had no doubt when there was something that she did not. She was not one to mince words. But there was always laughter, and when something struck her particularly funny, she would be sure to say it again. Maybe it was for comedic effect. Maybe it was just to help the moment last just a little while longer. Either way, we loved those stories and the memories. We loved that, as her hearing began to fade, pop would attempt to rile her up while she puttered back to the stove to hot up the kettle.
They loved each other. Her life had been dedicated to showing him exactly that by her daily acts of service to him. Kristy and I admired what we saw in them whenever we had the opportunity to visit.
Since pop died in 2016, our visits took on something that was more deeply special. She was still there to greet us, but this time through a multitude of tears. Now, I was the one embracing her, holding her for as long as she needed.
“I miss him so much.” she would say.
After a few moments of sharing in this grief and reflection, she realized that she had a routine that she needed to get started on. Kettle boiling. Tea steeping. Bread buttering. Quiet muttering. It was time for us to visit, to trade stories, and to catch up. These last few times we got to spend with her, we laughed longer and cried harder. We stayed longer. It was as if we all silently understood the value of what was happening.
Nan also understood the value of a cup of tea and I’m convinced that she would use each cup for another purpose. Tea was not just a prop for our visits. I’m convinced that she saw it as an anchor. As long as the tea was flowing, we were securely moored close by, laughing, crying, retelling stories. Each cup of tea you pour buys a few more minutes together. Even as we would be walking out the door the inevitable question was sure to follow.
“You don’t want another cup of tea, do you?”
She may as well have said, “Stay with me, just a little while longer.”
I’ve wondered many times today how many cups of tea she could have poured for my grandfather if she could have. I wonder how many times I would putter about the kitchen and boil the kettle for her if it meant just one more visit.
Over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be thinking a lot about that little kitchen. The photos of family on the refrigerator. The porcelain ornaments in every nook and cranny. The tea. The smiles. The tears.
Nan, I was always excited to see you, too. I loved our conversations even when I had to yell just so you could hear me. I’m glad that I got to be there, in some small way, to sit with you in your grief and to listen to the stories of how much you loved pop. I loved how I never felt rushed and always knew that I was home.
And, home, you see, is a beautiful place.