HE was no great shakes in the kitchen, my Dad, but he made a decent cup of tea.
Lyons Gold Blend. Strong and thick. A drop of milk. And two and a quarter spoons of sugar.
Always in a proper cup and saucer. He never used a mug. It was a porcelain cup, incongruous in his big weather beaten hands, or nothing.
When he and Mam would come back from the shops, it was his job to make the tea. He’d put away the heavy stuff first – the potatoes, the cylinder of gas for the Super Ser – while Mam sorted out the bread and the milk and then he’d get on to the real business of the day – the tea.
He always warmed the pot first, swirling the hot water around intently, like a science experiment. Three teabags between the two of them, boiling water, not even a second off the boil, and then a good stir with a teaspoon to bring it all together.
And then he’d wait. You always had to wait, you see. The tea had to draw. A good five minutes at least.
Look at that! A decent Jaysisin’ cup of tea, that’s what that is. The last cup for your mother, she likes it strong. Only a tiny drop of milk for her. No sugar. After 40 years he knew how Mam liked her tea. He made it for her every day after all and every day she agreed it was the best cup of tea she’d ever had. She’d sigh and say ‘God I needed that’ after the first sip. And he’d fold his arms and sit back and nod contentedly. Grand job.
He was always so proud. Making the tea after the shops was his job. Making the tea when there were visitors was his job. They all knew about the tea. They all knew Joe was the tea maker, the tea lover, in the house. The tea provider.
He was so proud.
I noticed it about four months after he died. Just suddenly one day, in my house.
Mam was making her own cup of tea. Weaker. With a large splash of milk. The tea paler than I’d ever seen it.
Then I noticed it again and again as the months and now years passed. Slightly weaker tea. More milk. The first cup out of the pot, not the last.
I thought it was grief. I thought it pained her to drink the tea the way Dad used to make it. That she couldn’t cope with the memory of it, the scent of it, the taste of it.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t grief. It was love.
This is how she likes her tea. This is how she has always liked her tea. Slightly weaker, with a slightly bigger splash of milk. The first cup out of the pot if possible. Maybe the second. But not the last.
She never told him. All those years of the tea and the sit down and the grand job. She never told him that it was good but it wasn’t quite right.
For nearly 50 years she drank her not quite perfect cup of tea and assured the love of her life that it was all she could hope for.
Hers is an Irish love story, soaked through with commitment and love and loyalty and tea.
Just like Dad used to make.