When my sweet little Mama lived with us, we often sat together for tea. One such occasion stands out clearly in my mind because I wrote about it afterwards. Given the challenges of this past week, it seems particularly fitting to share it now. I called it “Mama and I Had Tea Today.”
Mama and I had tea today. In addition to tea, we shared little crescent rolls tucked full of rich and delicious raspberry jam. And while we sipped our tea, Mama told me stories.
John Senior, in his book “The Restoration of Christian Culture” says this about one small but significant element of restoration. “…the tearoom will reopen where women can forget about dieting for fashion, enjoy life more (a little extra weight among friends is an honest thing), eat cakes, drink coffee or tea, sip and gossip about the transient things, which are even more important than the permanent ones, all the things that men don’t know about and if they did would fail to understand and foolishly disparage – like romance, courtship, childbirth, fidelity, infidelity and death.”
Today, Mama and I engaged in our own little restoration of culture. We talked about flowers.
During the Depression, Mama and Daddy lived in a big old run-down house that looked more like an apartment building. Upstairs, the plaster was falling off walls and ceiling. Downstairs, pipes froze every winter, causing all sorts of problems for a mother struggling to keep her new little baby warm. Coal was scarce. Nobody could afford to heat their homes. Daddy didn’t even have a real paying job and rent was costing the young couple $20 a month. What were they to do?
Hidden by the trees that rimmed the property was a greenhouse, and in the house behind that greenhouse lived a man who needed help with his business. He didn’t have money to pay anybody, but he was desperate, so he came up with a plan even though he seriously doubted anyone would respond to it. He offered to pay in sweet peas. Flowers? What good are flowers? Who would ever even consider being paid in flowers? Not too many men. Not even two men. Just one. My daddy.
Daddy would work five days a week for this man and at the end of the week, every Saturday, he’d traipse back through the woods to get his pay: armloads of pretty smelling flowers.
Man does not live by flowers alone, and Daddy knew that, so he built a little display case, made of wood scrounged from one of those upstairs bedrooms that were falling apart, and glass borrowed from furniture that had seen better days. He and Mama saved every tin can from every bit of food that came into the house, and as soon as each can was empty, the two of them painted the exterior and potted sweet peas inside it. Next, they carefully placed their pots of sweet peas on the little stand Daddy had built, putting it on the sidewalk outside their house. All day long, people would stop by the “flower stand” and even if the buyers hadn’t been able to find the groceries they needed at the store, they always managed to round up a few coins to buy flowers. Mama said everybody always seemed to want the orange ones. They were alive, vibrant with color, speaking of life and happiness and warmth in a world that had suddenly lost its light and become dangerously cold.
At the end of every weekend, the young couple would count their pennies and nickels, dimes and quarters, and every week their pile of coins grew larger. Pretty soon they had a problem. Where were they going to keep their hard-earned money where it would be safe? Maybe, just maybe, the attic would work. But what would they use to store their money? Tin cans, of course.
As I close my eyes, I can almost picture the attic as it became a shrine to ingenuity, marriage and hard work. First one tin can, then two, three, now five, until at long last they knew they’d sold enough flowers and it was time to do something new. Together they’d saved $1000, enough for a down payment on a house a few blocks away, situated on an acre of land with scores of greenhouses, some large and some small, some linked together and some not, big transparent caves protecting the soil. My dad was now the proud owner of his very own greenhouses.
When I had tea with my Mama, I learned something priceless about my daddy. He was a man of vision, a receiver of life in the form of flowers, and he was a man who loved what was beautiful. I’d always seen my mother as the lover of what was beautiful; never my dad. But that changed the day I had tea with Mama, for in my mind’s eye, Daddy was once again a young man, carrying home armloads of fragrant sweet peas, saving for his future and the future of his children. His wife shared in his vision and together they painted and potted something of great value. Somehow, that picture is incredibly beautiful to me.
Rich, dark soil is a beautiful thing even to a non-gardener. I’ve heard it said that in the best growing soil you can plunge your arm down so deep that the soil will come up to your elbow and seemingly swallow it up. Who would have thought that soil, plain ordinary soil, would have meant so much to one little family? But it did. In the immediate sense, it meant food and shelter and a way to earn more money. For me it meant a college education and summers spent skating on outdoor ice rinks in the mountains. It meant a home filled with books and a mother who loved being a mother, who read them to her child. Those beautiful, fragrant acts of vision on the part of a young man, and the talent provided by his artistic bride, laid the foundation. That foundation turned out to be rich, dark, productive soil, swallowing a young couple’s time and energy for the space of a few short years and giving them in return a future and a generational inheritance.
John Senior also says in his book, “Woman’s place is in the home not because some chauvinist put her there but because there is a law of gravity in human nature as there is in physics by which we seek our happiness at the center.” Mum and Daddy understood this. They knew that home is not just some place we come to at the end of every day, where we eat our dinner, put our feet up on the stool in front of the TV, and allow our minds to idle. These things make mockery of what “home” truly is and leave us always wanting more.
True home is where the fragrance is sweet, where hearts are refreshed and renewed, and minds are challenged. True home is a place where visions are developed and cultures are reclaimed.
True home is at the center. True home is where the flowers are.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used with her gracious permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Jen is a sixty-something mother to three grown sons, wife to one wonderfully faithful man, and her heart is consistently filled with wonder and delight at all things true, good, and beautiful. Tucked away in her own little house on the prairie, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing on the floor with her two-year-old grand baby and his vast collection of colorful choo-choo trains. As the founder of The Classical Christian Schooling Network and Digest, her roots run deep in the classical Christian schooling world. In her spare time, she enjoys drinking tea and cultivating friendships with fairy tale creatures.