Steeping in Time and Tea

Last Saturday, I was feeling particularly lonely for a child. It’s a familiar ache, and while it was an especially beautiful day — Texas-clear, lively birdsong — I was sad. I opened all the windows of my house and let the day in, and there it was again — a small, yellow ball awaiting my turn to throw it over the fence. My 4-year-old neighbor and I have been playing unseen catch for about two weeks now.

My husband and I have been waiting on a child for a few years. I’m not going to write how long because there is always someone who’s been waiting longer and comparisons never make anyone feel better. We built this house with the intention of it being our family home. I made early preparations, believing pregnancy would happen only to be met with disappointment, anger, and deep despair every month. My husband watches me through these transitions and carefully calibrates the right things to say or do. Last month he brought home ivory hyacinths. This month, purple lilacs.

“Do you want to get some fresh air?” he asks, sliding his hand down my back.

I don’t know how he does it, but he has studied my face for years now and he knows exactly what I’m thinking. It’s usually when my eyes wander to some unseen point in the country’s clearing that he knows I’m sinking into the grief again. Perhaps it’s the shape of my eyes or the remembered sadness he’s seen so many times before. With my give-it-away face, he’s usually right.

“Maybe,” I say.

I once had a boy tell me that if you stare at the second hand on the clock, it will make the hour go by faster. I tried it once and realized it was so mindless — surely there were more beautiful things to look upon to mark the passage of time.

This day, I looked up to the pale blue sky with not even a passing cloud. How long? I asked.

Photo: Jean Anderson Dunham

Since I felt the need for comfort, my husband suggested we try the Tea Embassy. This was a sacrifice for him, I know, because he would much rather being doing something outside on a day like this — perhaps walking around Ladybird Lake or canoeing. But he’s been smoothed into a gentle soul through our suffering and seeing me at peace makes him happy. Before all this, I never would have guessed how much sacrifice is born of infertility for the would-be father. Everyone hears the mother’s cries, but rarely notices the father’s pain.

We made our way to one of Austin’s most cozy hideaways. On the corner of 9th and Rio Grande stands a beautiful, white Victorian home, complete with green shutters and a wraparound porch. It is the epitome of all things good and Southern. And when you enter in, you are at home. I’d heard many good things about this place and after being prompted by the owner — a member of our church — to visit, we decided to finally accept. Feeling the need for refuge from the weariness of the week, afternoon tea was the perfect antidote.

We parked along one of the side streets. I took out my camera, sensing there would be beauty to document. After taking a few street-side photos, we both walked inside to a beautiful 19th century house that reached into far away lands — home to hundreds of silver tea canisters, and grasses, buds, and leaves from all over the world. It was a dreamy tea emporium, but also a time capsule — a museum of found objects, all unique in their own way, strained, cleaned, dried, and ultimately risen from the mud.

Photo: Jean Anderson Dunham

On one mantle was a tea set from the Buckingham Palace; on another, an antique bone China floral teacup. There’s plenty to take home for the tea-lover: colorful ceramic mugs, cast-iron Japanese teapots, and my personal favorite: glass teapots for blooming teas. Quite possibly the most beautiful thing you could drink, it sits as a little bouquet, usually made up of green tea leaves that are hand-tied together with flowers and compressed into a pod. When placed in boiling water, the pod opens like a beautiful ornament. It’s a wonder that the hot water could spur such a beautiful creation.

As I got lost in the poetics of the place, I found myself humming and I abandoned my sorrow for a little while. I tried all the tea samples before committing to a cup of Austin Ambrosia. With hundreds of flavor-names like Creativity Rooibos and Organic Peppermint, there seemed to be a tea for every time. I wondered if anything could mark time as well as tea.

Photo: Jean Anderson Dunham

We drove home, making the long route into the hill country and the ascent up our empty driveway. The day was partially done, marked by the transient ephemera of tea leaves and grasses, and a new song. I breathed deep to savor the Austin Ambrosia, then bent over to pick up the yellow ball waiting for me again.


Jean Anderson Dunham is a child psychiatrist living in Austin, Texas. She curates articles and images she finds interesting on her Tumblr at roots and wings.

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