So this new swanky tea place opened up at the mall. Everyone’s talking about it. How exotic the teas are…how delicious…how
“Can we try it, Mom?”
I pointed to the pantry, overflowing with tea. “When all that tea’s gone, I’ll take you to
pick out something small,” I told him. “We’re
on a budget.” Then I laughed to
myself. No one was going to drink the
peppermint that sounded so good but tasted horrible. No one would drink the five hundred dollar
green tea my husband got tricked into buying the first time he went to China.
I was safe.
“Mom, we should schedule my driving test,” V said, two
months ago. “It takes awhile to get on the
I nodded. “When you’re
close to the required hours, I’ll call.”
And, forty hours in, I did. And I
discovered that, rather than getting V in for the test the following week, the
earliest available test date was a month and a half out.
After weeks and weeks of waiting, the day of the test
approached. “V,” I said, the day before,
“I hate to say this, but I would get a little dressed up. You know…can’t hurt.”
“What?” V squinted at
me. Had her mother lost her mind?
“Maybe a skirt? Some
makeup? I mean, I hate to play the game
So V—my daughter who lives in sweats. V—my daughter who fashioned a necklace out of
a clock key of all things. V—my daughter who takes pride in not
conforming—V put on a skirt. And
We drove to the test, both of us nervous. We ran through the basics again. Lights.
Hazards. Defroster. “I’m going to fail, Mom.”
“You’re not going to fail.
You have over a hundred hours in.”
approached the car. He held up a form. “Have you signed this, Mom?”
“Um…” I stammered, suddenly
wishing that I, too, had worn a skirt. “No. I’m sorry.
He thrust the pen and a paper at me. “Sign it.”
I did. Quickly.
“Leave the car.”
“Bonne chance,” I whispered to V. Good
Five minutes later, V returned, having failed the parallel
parking portion of the test.
“You can retake your test in a week,” the examiner said,
handing V her permit with a red check in the first of five failure boxes.
“Next time, I’m going as me,”
V said. “I’m wearing my sweats and I’m
wearing my key and I don’t care what he thinks about how I look.”
The next day we called to reschedule V’s driving test. We got her in for the earliest date…six weeks
hence. And the very next thing I did was
ask my friend to teach V how to parallel park, something I was unable to do: The
last time I successfully parallel parked was during my own driver’s exam.
I was at the mall today.
I needed to buy two gifts: a birthday present for my sister and a thank
you gift for the friend who’d spent two and a half hours teaching V to parallel
“Let’s try the tea place, Mom,” Squints said.
A woman stood at the entrance holding a tray of small
plastic cups. Squints raced over and
whipped one off the tray. “Mmmmm. Mom, try this.”
“May I help you?” The woman asked, following us in with her tray.
“I’m looking for tea,” I stammered, immediately feeling
stupid. “For a gift. But I’ve heard your tea is pretty expensive.” I picked up a tin. Ten dollars.
“This doesn’t look too bad.”
“Tea doesn’t have to
be expensive,” she soothed.
Agreed. A box of one
hundred bags of Red Rose costs three ninety-nine and even includes a neat
“The tea your son sampled has a nice bouquet.”
I smiled. “I feel
like I’m buying wine,” I said, wanting to sound suave and confident. Truth was, I know nothing about wine. The closest I get to wine is the occasional
sip at Communion and cider that has spent too many weeks in the fridge.
The woman removed a massive jar of tea from the shelf,
opened it up to show us the beauty of the blend. She fanned the lid, sending a lovely fragrance
“That’s nice,” I said.
I noted the price on the side. “Seven
fifty a pound? Not bad.”
The woman smiled. “That’s
per ounce.” She pulled a tall tin from the
shelf. It must’ve been eighteen inches
at least. “We recommend these air-tight
tins. We guarantee the tea remains fresh
for a year in them.”
I nodded. “What would
a couple of ounces look like?”
She smiled and shoveled a couple of scoops into the tin
before tapping it on the counter. “Like this.”
I squinted. “That
doesn’t look like much. How about a
couple more scoops?”
Again she smiled. “OK.” She scooped.
She tapped. She held out the tin.
The tea took up about two inches. “I don’t want to look like a cheapskate. Could I just…you know, put the tea in a bag?”
“Yeah,” a man beside me said. He was buying several varieties of teas. “Then put the bag in the tin. Takes up more space that way.”
“Good idea,” a second clerk said. He was measuring out a fun blend for the helpful customer beside me.
“That works." A third clerk
had mysteriously materialized before us.
“Just put in it a bag.”
“OK,” the woman said, transferring the tiny bit of tea into
a small bag and poking it into the airtight tin.
said. “Can we get some? Or is it très cher?”
Squints and I use these code words sometimes. Rather than embarrassing myself by admitting
that we can’t afford something, I tell him it’s too expensive. In French.
So even if we can’t afford it, at least we can sound kind of sophisticated
talking about our lack of funds.
“Mom?” He said
again. "Très cher?"
“Oh, I suppose we can get a little,” I said. I wanted a fun blend too. “But we’re not getting that tin,” I said
firmly. We’re on a budget after all.
He grinned. “Thanks,
“So…a bit more for us,” I said, pointing.
The three clerks smiled and nodded. They scooped and poured and weighed. “You know,” the third clerk said. “You’re just a wee bit shy of our fifteen
“Oh!” I said, feeling rather lucky and adventurous and fun. “Give us another blend.” How much could a half of pound of tea cost,
"How much shy?"
He held up a thumb and index finger. "Just half a pound.”
Forty dollars, as it turns out.
“All our blends are sweetened with pure beet cane sugar.” Clerk number two gestured to a jar full of
“Uh…no thanks,” I said, feeling my knees buckle as I
realized that half a pound was eight ounces.
“Would you like to see how we prepare our teas?” Clerk number one asked.
“Show Squints,” I said.
“He’s the chef.”
Squints followed her to a shelf.
I started calculating.
How much had I committed to spending?
I bit my lip, waiting for the total, thinking of the college textbooks
we have to order for Filibuster next week.
I wiped my brow, waited for the total.
Squints approached. “Cher?" He whispered.
We left the store.
“Did she show you how to make the blend?” I asked.
“She wanted to sell me a tea brewing machine.”
It's a cool night. It’s a relaxing night. It’s a tea night.
I put kettle on and toss a bag of Red Rose into my mug,
ignoring the blends in the closet.
Because no matter how much fancy-pants tea I buy, in the
end, I’m not so suave. In the end, I’m
just me, the way V is V in her sweats and clock-key necklace and her messy
Six weeks from now, V will make her second attempt at
I wonder if the examiner is fond of tea.
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Labels: Creative non-fiction