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One Lump or Two?

My grandmother made me cups of tea in dainty flowered tea cups. Always with a matching saucer, these cups were no match for the macho coffee mugs that lined the desk in my college dorm.

Tea time lasted all day at Nan’s house. Too early in the morning, the kettle’s obnoxious whistle would hail Round One. Nan measured the loose leaves carefully, (2 and ¼ spoons), then poured the hissing water into the silver tea pot, proudly black inside from years of service. A hand-crocheted ‘tea cozy’ (like a tea-pot beanie) kept the pot warm while the tea brewed – but only after the pot was turned 3 times clockwise then 2 times anti-clockwise. The tea was then passed through a strainer placed over the rim of the teensy cups, poured with a ceremonious rising of the spout. We both had our tea ‘white’, which meant with a dash of milk.

“One lump or two?” my Grandmother asked each time, grabbing the sugar cubes from the refrigerator. This was my moment of reckoning. One lump made it taste good enough to want two. But in that small cup, for me, two was sweet enough to send me early to afternoon slumber under a ceiling fan. Most often, I chose one.

Before the last tea leaf settled, the kettle was back on. As if it was the first time it had occurred to her that day, Nan would ask “What about a cuppa love?”  And then it started over –  brewing and hoo-hah’ing until sun-down (when a final cuppa was in order before bed).

Decades later, I was sitting on an ice pack in the post-natal wing of Santa Monica hospital. It was exactly one day after the 40 hours of labor necessary to expel my gorgeous daughter. A perfectly sane friend came to visit. Burst capillaries bordered my eyes, swollen from pushing.  I remember looking around the simple room for a distraction from all this glamour, wishing I could at least offer a cup of tea.

“So, are you going to have another?”

This is true.


She couldn’t mean another… baby, could she?

My first instinct, of course, was baneful.  Instead, I calmly remembered Nan’s tea time.

I thought about my husband who had not planned children in his life. I thought about our nomadic ways, living away from family, the vein of depression in my family tree, and the volatility of our chosen careers.  We were going to make a great family, the three of us and our beagle. Unless life handed me an enormous mug, two lumps might overwhelm the essence of the brew.

I looked at where my big lump had been just a day ago.

“One lump”, I told her, “is plenty sweet enough for me”.


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