Three Cups of Tea
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t go. Please don’t make me,” Grace pleaded with her parents in full wail to the stringy clouds of the grey sun morning. The complete failure by her parents to move her from the front door to the car door for the last fifteen minutes was going to make them rudely late. Fragile as they all were following the death, the minutes were ticking and the booking at the church allowed them only so much time to arrive. The drawbridge of opportunity was lifting. Grace’s transportation was going to be left waiting on the wrong side.
“I know how you feel, believe me,” said Grace’s mom. “She was my own mother. We’ve got to go. Please come with us.”
“You don’t know how I feel. I can’t stand it when you say that.” Grace yelled from sadness, then in the spontaneous shift of attitudes used especially well by fourteen-year-olds, she stomped in anger. “Leave me alone. I’ll remember Grandma without a funeral. Go! Really. Now!”
“We’ve got to go, Jeff. Let’s just go.” Grace’s mom pulled on her husband’s coat sleeve.
Jeff, knowing it was smart to not fan the flames with demands right now, said to his daughter, “Grace. We love you anyway. I’ll tell your cousins you got sick. Please keep yourself safe. We’ll call you right after the service, see if you want to go to the wake at Aunt Lucy’s.” Grace’s parents turned to leave. Her mom reached out to hold Grace’s face for a sweet, quiet gesture of goodbye.
Grace took a wipe at the tear-mess on her face and shut the door quietly behind them. She turned into the living room just a step before she fell into a cross-legged seat on the floor. She bent her head to her ankles and cried. Cried and cried. She cried like a waif on a church step in chilled winter rain. She cried for sorrows ahead. She cried the young fears the young feel when some go and the world is immense and others are strange.
Grandma gone. Mom to go.
The love and the kindness so faint now are fading, not sewn in seams of the clothes that mom buys, then gives you to wear and the little match girl is down to two matches. She cried. She stopped to use skirt ends to wipe. She saw her best church skirt and cried. She sat weak, weary, and spent. Then she squinched and she snuffled and the crying wound down. She looked up, fell down to her side on the rug over carpet and sniffed. She sniffed a hard sniff and stretched out her legs, laid back on her spine and looked up. She sighed sorry sighs and tried not to cry but she did. One more cry. She wiped on her sleeve and sniffed up loud hard. She rolled to her knees and stood up.
In the kitchen of wonders, she wondered what mother would do. She thought tea, of course tea, and took down the box. The mom box. The cry box. The Constant of Comment, black tea Constant Comment. Yes, that would do for the now.
She cried to the ceiling. She stopped for the water of tears. Three cups she pulled down from the cupboard. Three cups, one for each of us now. I’ll set them just right and we’ll sit, just us three here. We’ll sit for a time here right now. She boiled the water, brought sugar and cream to the table. Three teaspoons, three shortbreads she laid out so pretty. She placed tea in the cups, poured steam magic water and sat with her loved ones for tea.
“Cousin, please come for tea.” Waller T. Patton rose from his campsite table to visit his cousin’s canvas tent opening. “Cousin, I require your presence; your tea is near ready.”
Patton lifted the flap to his cousin’s tent, letting in the fresh chill air of the morning. A swirl of fetid air washed outside from the sleeping man in the process of sitting up on his cot. Cousin Lewis B. Williams, colonel and commander of the 1st Virginia Regiment, had slept in his jacket. He buttoned the middle buttons but left the top still open.
“Shortly. I will be there shortly, cousin.” Williams shook his face trying to wake up more like his favorite dog Lucy left at the homestead. Then he laughed at himself. More like an animal daily.
Williams’ troops spent the last ten weeks camping, and now, near the end of June, they left their drilling grounds to join up with other regiments hiking north. His First Virginia was to join with Kemper’s brigade, part of Pickett’s division in the Army of Northern Virginia. Happenstance brought him together with his cousin on this hike and naturally, they camped, just as when youngsters, tent by tent together.
“Davis, Davis, confound it, where are you?” Williams held little patience for the darkies that attended him. “Cousin, have you seen my Davis?” Williams had raised himself and stood outside his tent speaking to Patton now.
“He tasked himself with bringing water from the creek two times yet this morning. Perhaps he is ...”
Williams cut him off. “Davis!” Davis at that moment appeared, two buckets hanging from the ends of a stick across his shoulders. The buckets slopped water over sides as Davis, startled at the harshness in the sound of the voice, set them down heavily. “Davis, I need you, son. Come here.”
Davis hurried to the man. Williams stood tall when talking with darkies, as well as to others in his command, and he did so now.
“Son, I need you to feed and water the horses, and take care to pick out the hooves fully. Check the weld on the bridle I felt loosened yesterday. Then come back to me.”
Davis looked down at his rough dusty bare feet then up to his owner. “Done done that, sir. Already done that.”
Williams smiled at the upturned face. “Good, son. Commander Patton’s horse, too?” Davis nodded emphatically. Williams kept his smile, not showing his surprise. “Get on then with the water. Come see me again before you sit for breakfast.”
Davis turned back to his buckets. Patton lifted the cast iron kettle from a branch across the fire and handled it by sizzling wet cloth to the table. His mother’s porcelain teapot and matching cups with saucers sat in place waiting for the cousins to partake. Patton poured the boiling water into the teapot which was already filled with the China green tea hyson, his favorite from home. His mother packed the crate of tea service and cloths and tea stores herself. She fussed for days over provisions he should take, embarrassing him to the point he enlisted his sisters in asking her to stop. Now here on a summer’s morning miles from home, he appreciated results and memory of that female fussing. Oh yes he missed home, but these times chose his destiny and not the farm. West Point provided the training. The Union scourge deserved push back. The conflict so far had sides shifting advantages weekly though reliable news proved scarce.
We did not set ourselves on this path. Nevertheless, today we are gentlemen with swords. Our Southern way. The reason to war.
Patton waved his cousin to the table. Williams buttoned the top two buttons of his cadet-grey shell jacket and combed his hands through his hair before sitting down opposite. “Waller T., I thank you. Blessed be this glorious tea.”
“Mighty fine morning, cousin,” returned Patton. “Good to have you here.” He strained the tea from pot to cup and cup with the practiced grace of the drawing room formal he attended just -- how long ago was it? Looking up he found a smile on Williams face and felt a crinkle at his own eyes. “Sugar for your tea?”
When Bridget told others she imagined seeing the Green Man she was really asking to hear their beliefs. She already well knew what she saw. She watched for him every night. Sometimes Bridget would ask people during a conversation if they knew the Celtic myth of the Green Man. From there, the talks took various turns. A few times she got lucky, heard smatterings, messages remembered from mothers or aunties. One time she talked a long while with a woman who seemed to have studied. That led to an invitation to a bonfire during Beltane but finally disappointment. She realized the disconnect. Their new rituals were more like the druidic playacting. Her reality was fundamentally real.
Every night since she saw him Bridget watched from her porch, looking straight into the maple and pine. Her acres sloped house to the river. She had seen him wet up his whole trunk. She just wanted to see him again. What had been different that night? What had been special that day? She called and she sang, learned songs from old times, and looked for a sign of the man. She sketched on her pad to capture the body, the strength of the man, the arms and the birds. The face she sought in her books.
Like green from the spring leaves. Like green from the moss. His body of bark shone with green. The movements were soft and the feet roots reached slowly. She remembered his face in the light. She sat and she swung on the swing in the night breeze. Her tea mug cupped in her hand. She looked and she wished and she wondered for words. What to say to the man from the trees? What the Green Man can do to one’s dreams!
She drank all her tea in her swing one day into night and put her bare feet on the boards. The sounds wrapped the porch like water on skin, the rush of the river, the swish of the leaves in the wind. White birch trees stood stark still and the sky shifted lightness. A shadow of clouds covered now. The Green Man disgorged from the tree. She breathed a slight breath and wanted to speak but the old music came from her throat. “I danced in the morning when the world was begun. And I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun. I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth.”
He didn’t seem to be afraid of her voice. She found a smile on his face in the bark. A shyness took both and Bridget felt like a girl. She looked down to her mug not to look. And what did her tea leaves now tell? She saw at the bottom and turned it to see the words of the tree. “Come be,” said the tea leaves. The message of Green to the girl. “Come be.” She rose from her porch swing to be. She walked down the steps into leaves on the ground and walked in the whispers of trees. The Green Man leaned down and rubbed on her face and watched for his woman to come. Now she stands by his side in the whispering pines and sings old songs for the night.