I never prepare a cup of tea that I don't think of my beloved maternal grandmother, Catherine Paulsen. In her later years, still living alone on Riverview Avenue in Miamisburg, I'd often stop on my way to classes at Miami University. I'd have evening class at the Middletown campus and, heading south anyway, I'd stop at grandma's for warm conversation and hot tea.
I never knew her to be much of a tea drinker but for these evening soiree's. She loved coffee, dark and black, but settled on decaffeinated through necessity. For me, though, when I stopped for a brief visit, it would be tea. She'd fire up her natural gas stove and in no time she'd have boiling water and a cup of tea ready.
I didn't know it then - or perhaps I really did - that her time left was short. She was first diagnosed with breast cancer in the early years of the 1960's and it was to return again and again like an uninvited guest. She always maintained a positive attitude. Truth be told, she was a fighter. I saw a fire in her eyes early on.
So, tea in hand, we'd enjoy a short visit and talk about the things grandmothers and grandchildren talk about. They were never heavy conversations, just expressions of unspoken love. Time and tea together was enough.
She was never physical in the sense that she hugged me or kissed me much. And yet I knew her love for me knew no bounds. When I was sick with strep throat, so seriously sick that our family couldn't predict my eventual recovery, she gave money in my name to a religious charity, hoping that it might bring me health. The donation is all the more memorable because money was the one thing she had so little of. To give it away was unheard of.
I remember, as much as she wasn't a kisser, always leaning in for a parting peck on her cheek. She would invariably turn her head, place her cheek toward my lips and accept the offering in good grace. I remember to this day how cool her skin was. I sense the same thing in my own mother when I tuck her into bed each night.
If we are not a family that shows physical love, an undercurrent flows strongly. We know that we are there for one another and the strength is in the knowing.
When I saw my grandmother alive for the last time, she was nearly comatose, in a hospital bed in 1969. I looked at the urine bag hanging low on the frame, watching the slow drip of a life ebbing away. She did not turn her cool cheek to me that last night but I remember it was positioned correctly atop the pillow for a final kiss.
I still think, after all these years, "Thanks for the tea, Grandma."
[Pictured: A cup of Bigelow Lemon/Ginger Tea to which I've added a full spoonful of sugar and a slice of lemon Mom and I brought home from Pizza Hut on Sunday. It is sweet and lemony. Every swallow reminds me of my grandmother.]