I shared a cup of tea with a good friend this week. It's been a long time since I brewed a nice cuppa - American life doesn't often lend itself to sitting down in the middle of the day and chatting over Earl Grey. But I could think of no better response to bad news at the dentist and troublesome four year olds. So we sat. We commiserated. We drank. With milk, a bit of sugar, warming our hands around the mugs. These mugs:
My mom bought me these, as a birthday gift the spring before my wedding. They're a set, 4 mugs and 4 plates. I was delighted by them - crisp blue and white with 'shabby chic' French labels - so evocative to me of the cozy newlywed breakfasts I would have, of the casual brunches to which I'd invite friends in our newlywed home. I first used the plates and mugs to serve my mom Mother's Day breakfast that year - coffee, bagels and cream cheese with fresh cut lily-of-the-valley on the table.
The plates and mugs have followed me through the days of my marriage - from the tiny flat with too many wedding presents crammed in, to our lovely ground floor flat on Erleigh Road where we sometimes ate breakfast out on the tiny terrace, to our cottage on Pound Lane, to the storage container in Baltimore where they waited patiently, wrapped in paper & packing tape for me for 2 years, to our spanking-new kitchen at the Yellow House, where I unwrapped them with the same cries of delight I'd uttered back in that April of '96.
These mugs for me are all of the cups of coffee drunk over The Sunday Times, the bracing cups of tea brewed strong to keep me awake in the final days of my dissertation, the decaf we drank in the evenings as 'entertainment' with no tv, the brunches with friends that did indeed take place frequently. I drank tea from these mugs when I couldn't stomach coffee during my first pregnancy - Torbjorn brought me a cup every morning as I jockeyed my belly around the tiny, awkward bathroom. I drank mug after mugful of tea in those crazy hazy days of early motherhood, when it seemed that mug was all that stood between me and total collapse. I remember brewing a strong cup of tea when a friend discovered an unwanted pregnancy, another when someone else revealed her marriage was ending. I remember sitting at the table in our little garden courtyard with my sister in law, days before we moved out of the cottage in Sonning to a new life in America, cupping my hands around my mug as my heart quietly broke.
The tea drinkers among us will be acquainted with the faint beige tint that begins to stain your white mugs after many years of service. Mine are more than 'tinted'. The handle on one has a serious chip out of it, making it a high probability you'll burn your knuckles if the coffee's too hot. The rim of another has a mysterious crack in it, not quite a chip, but could make a drinker wary. The bottoms have the repetitive grey swirls signalling the many years of spoons stirring - honey, sugar, milk, perhaps a bit of whisky on those nasty-cold-in-the-head days.
So when I set the cups out this week to make tea for Jen, I noticed that they were more shabby than chic. This particular Thursday night as I unloaded these mugs from the dishwasher, I had that moment of clarity where I knew I'd have to say goodbye. I don't want to keep them until a 'helper' accidently breaks one, or keep shoving them to the back of the cupboard. I'll let them go now, and be a brave girl about it. Funnily enough, if I wait for a week or so it will be my birthday again and will mark the mugs' 13th year with me. This time, 13 was lucky.
May the next set of mugs follow me through as much joy, as much growth, as much love, as much living as did these.