Saturday, May 29, 2010

Exit 71: Tea, South Dakota

It’s the third day of driving for me—and fourth day of driving for my father—and my trip odometer reads 1139 miles. My father calls from his truck, behind my Jeep, to tell me that his trip odometer reads 2222.2. It’s what happens when one’s family is in Minnesota, one lives in Ohio, and one is moving to Nebraska. There will be a lot of driving. The new Nebraska home will be four hours closer to the Minnesota family than Ohio, so this is a good thing. Eventually.

The tale of the move starts early on Monday morning, with one of the worst headaches I’ve ever had, and that’s saying something, considering my lifelong struggle with migraines. This one brought a friend: full-on nausea. I had so much to do on Monday morning before my father arrived with the trailer in the afternoon, but even the smallest movement brought dire consequences. By the time AMR and FD knocked on my door at 3:00, I had been able to keep three bites of a banana and three Excedrin Migraine down—which was the most progress I’d made all day—but I still didn’t have enough strength or energy to do more than sit and even that was iffy. Other friends arrived later—and I have never been so grateful for them, since I couldn’t do anything. We got everything packed up and cleaned up and locked up and then Dad and I discovered that not only did I not have brake lights on the Uhaul, I had no brake lights on my Jeep. This was not good news, especially since I’d had the Jeep rewired the previous Thursday. So we showed up on the mechanic’s doorstep at 7:30 the next morning, right when they opened, and they were able to get me in right away. Dad and I left everything there, walked across the street to Kroger, and got some tea at the Starbucks there. Earl Grey for me, Awake for Dad. I was feeling better, in that strange stage where I wasn’t feeling icky and shaky, but where I could feel icky and shaky. Some granola and some Earl Grey later, I was good to go. Still trying to replenish my nutrients for energy, but on the right track. Earl Grey just makes me happy (the bergamot has scientifically-proven anti-depressant qualities and caffeine just makes me happy, since I’m awake), so that was a nice counterpoint to what was going on inside of that garage. It took them two hours to find out what kept blowing the brake fuse and $150 and another hour to fix it. So we were three hours late getting out of BG, three hours late into a twelve hour drive that was going to be hellish as it was. Before we left the parking lot, I went back into Starbucks and got another mug of Earl Grey. I was going to need it.

It’s nice to travel with my father, for many reasons, but the part where we don’t even have to discuss the tea element is especially nice. We didn’t even have to say anything about going across the street to get our tea—it was just a given. He’s the one who always responds to an offer of coffee with “I never touch the stuff—I always thought it would stunt my growth.” And since he’s 6-5, it usually gets a chuckle out of people. But both Wednesday morning in Des Moines and Thursday morning in Sioux Falls, I brought in with my travel mug two tea strainers and two tins of loose leaf tea, one of Assam and one of Earl Grey Supreme. We knew that the continental breakfasts of the hotels would not include decent tea—and we were right. But it was another one of those things, another of the tea variety, that I didn’t even have to discuss with him. The tea was just a given, automatic. But it brought up something that has burrowed into my brain, a tiny germ of an essay idea: people who drink tea like coffee. We loaded up our tea strainers, put them into our travel mugs, and walked down to breakfast. Bad tea is almost worse than no tea at all. At least I came prepared—and Dad was grateful. Of course, I held it over his head whenever he got to be too much: if he wasn’t nice to me, I wouldn’t share my tea. It made him laugh, because he knew that I would always share.

Last week, before I left, a couple of friends and I went up to Maumee to Clara J.’s tea house and we had a delightful little lunch, with tea. It was very girly and a lot of fun. We each had a different kind of tea in our pot and each of our teacups was different. I picked mine up—empty, of course—and looked at the bottom to see what kind it was. All three of my companions laughed when I did it. AMR and I both chose the Queen Catherine tea, which had enough bergamot in it to be interesting, but not enough to be a serious Earl Grey. And it became obvious, in that sort of duh way, that tea in a teacup is a completely different way of drinking tea. It’s slow, cultured, refined, requires a certain set of manners, which suits a certain kind of occasion and company. Certainly the majority of my tea cabinet is filled with china teacups that were passed down from my great-grandmother as well as those I’ve collected myself. Ironically, when we all graduated from our masters’ in Spokane in 2003, all my friends and I had a high tea at our friend Verlinda’s house. So much fun. There’s a time and a place for that kind of thing and when my mood is right, I’ll use my china pot and cups even when it’s just me drinking tea. Sometimes the everyday pottery pot just doesn’t suit the mood. The pottery pot and the pottery cup (not as big as a mug) is for practical drinking, which is not to say it can’t be special, but sometimes there’s just something really nice about slowing down to drink your tea out of the good china.

But the way that my family drinks tea, we drink tea like coffee. We fill up our 16 oz travel mugs with it, we run hot water through the Bunn coffee maker at our parents’ house (rather than use a kettle on the stove) because we’ll drink two or three carafes of whatever tea we’ve chosen for the day. At my sisters’ house, we’ll make two pots of tea at a time. Just now, I’ve run another pot of water through the Bunn, the second time through the East Frisian tea leaves we had for breakfast (now, it’s decaf) and I’ll drink that in the next hour. I’ve dropped some ice cubes into my travel mug (it’s spillproof, so excellent for having tea near my computer) and this pot of tea won’t last very long. I’ve long held the belief that there’s no real point in just one cup of tea. If you’re going to do tea, you might as well do a pot—or at least a big travel mug.

So all of this came into focus as Dad and I are driving north up I-29 and I see this sign, at Exit 71, for the town of Tea, South Dakota. Sometimes I just have to laugh at town names on signs. Atlantic, Iowa was one that caught my eye on the way past. I like the signs that offer two town names, but the two names work really well as a first and last name. As we neared Fargo, I got pretty excited when I saw the signs for towns I actually recognized and knew—rather than towns I’d just heard of—and I knew that we were getting close. And that after many days of driving, double-digit-mileage (Dad’s being twice as long as mine), we were almost done and the next morning, we’d be having our tea in a place we wouldn’t have to leave anytime soon.

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