Enjoy these Front Porch Moments from Bill and share your favorites with your family and friends. He'd love to meet you at Front Porch ice cream events. Oh, and by the way, his favorite flavor is Nana’s Banana Pudding.
The Tea Party
The invitation to the tea party came in an envelope inside an envelope. The outside envelope was addressed to my residence. The inside envelope was addressed to “Granddaddy”. It was written with a pink crayon. Inside the envelope was a folded piece of lavender-colored construction paper on which was written in uneven, block letters, “COME TO MY PARTY”. Underneath that invitation/instruction and written in the same style was “MIA”. At the bottom of the page, written in adult-scripted ink, was “1:00 in the back yard”.
Mia is my granddaughter and at the time of that particular tea party she was just seven years old but already a Southern belle. Holding tea parties is a traditional Southern social institution passed on from generation to generation by Southern women who take great pride and delight in gathering folks around them to commiserate, exaggerate, decorate and otherwise entertain in a prescribed manner. There are rules that are learned at an early age and which do not vary. However, there are certain adaptations made for those young ladies during the early part of the learning process.
I arrived at the appointed time of Mia’s tea party to find her already set up in the backyard under the dogwood tree a-bloom in its spring finery. As was Mia. She was wearing a long lavender dress that looked very much like the Cinderella dress she had gotten from Santa the previous Christmas. I noticed that she had made an attempt to accessorize her footwear by sprinkling glitter on her white tennis shoes. Certainly, her major fashion statement was the large straw hat with a wide brim and hat band in which she had placed some fresh white daisies plucked just that morning from the flowerbed beside the garage.
At my wife’s instruction I wore a bow tie with a blue blazer to go with my khaki pants and denim shirt. Mia expected her guest to dress appropriately.
She had borrowed her granny’s card table on which she had set up the tea set made of the finest red plastic cups and saucers, white spoons and paper napkins. In the center of the table was a small pitcher of sweet tea. (I believe it had earlier been available for lunch complete with ice.) Beside the pitcher was a small sugar bowl with lumps of sugar. (I have no idea where she found lumps of sugar at my house.) In the center of the table was a small plate of chocolate chip cookies.
The table was set for three. I asked who the third member of the party was and was told that it was Miss Beasley (Mia’s well-worn doll) but she couldn’t find any shoes to match her dress so she was taking a nap instead.
We proceeded with the tea party without Miss Beasley. (We sat in very small chairs which, for me, challenged the appropriate dignity of the event.) Mia asked if I would pour the tea. She passed the cookies to me. We sipped the tea and ate the cookies in silence. As soon as we finished the tea and cookies, Mia announced that she had to go into the house but would be right back.
Her Granny had been watching the whole thing through the kitchen window and I saw her move away as Mia left the table. In a few minutes Mia returned (accompanied by Granny) with two small plates each holding a slice of red velvet cake (left from Sunday dinner) topped with a generous helping of vanilla ice cream. We both ate the dessert with restrained enthusiasm.
Some Southern traditions fade with the changing times. There seem to be fewer occasions when formal attire is worn, when courtesy and manners are on full display. And it’s probably just as well. However, I believe there should always remain a tradition of a grandfather sharing tea with his granddaughter.
About Bill Thompson
For over 40 years, Bill Thompson has traveled the Carolinas delighting folks with his commentary on Southern staples: food, farming, music, family and neighbors. He's been the master of ceremonies for hundreds of events celebrating the things that make the South special - from the Hollering Contest in Spivey's Corner to the Wolly Worm Festival in Banner Elk, the Grits Festival in South Carolina, and he's even judged a sweet tea contest in Georgia. In the process, he's had the chance to meet some fine Southerners and hear their own stories. He's authored three books, one named, "Sweet Tea, Fried Chicken and Lazy Dogs: A Reflection of North Carolina Life."