Packing tea cups

2010-09-02 00:00

LAST night, I hauled out a discarded New Zealand Herald and wrapped a tea cup in a page — not any old tea cup, but a French designer Longchamp cup in a caramel-cream whirly design reminiscent of the late sixties. It was part of a dinner- service wedding gift from years ago. It came from Nagels, which later became The Hub.

I started crying when Ant said: “I wonder how many times you’ve wrapped that cup.” And I counted 12 times — my entire married life flooding through my mind.

I cried, not only because 40 years had slipped through my fingers like water escaping from a running tap, not just because I felt that they were lost, irretrievable years to return to and reconstruct, but also because the tea cup’s future remains unconvincingly tenuous.

The first time the cup was wrapped was to move from our first home — a modest rondavel, decorated with bath-towel curtains, where we’d animatedly ripped open our wedding gifts. I was 19. The tea cup remained unused. There was no place for guests to drink tea in a bohemian dwelling with no table.

A later wrapping was due to relocating from a one to a two- bedroomed flat, when our first baby joined our family ranks. The tea cup was still unused except on special occasions. And there was no time for special-occasion tea parties when life revolved around feeds, sleepless nights and nappy changes.

The tea cup and its set came out of the confines of the cupboard and into functional use in our various homes in KwaZulu-Natal — including bastardised Victoriana, a rambling Midlands Meander country thatch, suburban modernistic, a converted post office in Winterskloof, and an original wattle-and-daub-clad home with a kitchen burner and ball-and-claw-footed bath. Mostly interesting spacious homes with impressive views. Places to drink tea under the African sun. Where we had meaningful moments. Moments that became those years I cried about last night.

Thereafter, the tea cup went bubble wrapped in a box in an outsized container. It must have sweated in its wrapping in the dark bowels across the ocean, first docking at Port Louis, followed by Sydney before arriving at Auckland harbour. We traced the tea cup and all our worldly possessions on the Internet from our empty home in Auckland. We even went to the harbour and gazed at 1 000 containers, where omnipotent cranes bent their heads on a Sunday.

Joyfully its destination was reached. The container was unpacked and many boxes delivered to our doorstep by NZ Van Lines, where some amiable Jonah Lomu-type blokes with tattooed arms carried in our furniture and the boxes, including my tea cup. I joyfully opened the box and the bubble-wrapped contents to find my symbolic cup, which by then was running over.

And last night I wrapped it again, this time to move to a larger home a kilometre away as the New Zealand duck flies. But why so sad on this momentous journey to yet another characterful home — this one an authentic Kiwi wooden multilevelled home — where my cup will once more be unwrapped?

The sadness is for all the lost moments I didn’t sufficiently or abundantly embrace — the teas I sipped unfocused, the company I kept maybe insincerely and the people in my life whom I meant to but didn’t invite to sip tea before emigrating from Africa.

My mother was a staunch fan of the institution of tea drinking and so I also missed her. I miss not being that type of mother, because I was always too busy being the perennial student and the professional career woman. Mothers should find the time to sip tea with anyone old, sad, ill or lonely.

More poignantly, the sadness was for the terrible loss of family teas with grandchildren spilling tea from their tumblers.

I’m still musing about who can come over and sip tea from the Longchamp cup one fine Auckland day.

• Eve Hemming was a local teacher who emigrated to New Zealand.

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