The quaint teashop in the village drew me in through the door. Upon entering, I notice the tidy order to the space. Inside, a peaceful calm exists compared to the bustle of the shoppers outside. Golden canisters, nestling exotic teas, neatly line the aluminum shelves. It is as if they are watchful, standing guard over the quiet room. Sunlight streams through the windows, illuminating the glass vessels and teapots. I am here for a purpose, on a mission to search for a tea memory.
This memory formed from a story that began many years ago. It began like this. At least once or twice a month, my father would gather my sister and I up. It was Saturday, our day to visit Vancouver’s China Town. There was great excitement as we readied for the celebration ahead. We would lift our best dresses from hangers and step into them. Twirling through the kitchen we would spin, our socks leading us through pirouettes and turns. It felt like a party.
My father, handsome in a white short-sleeved shirt, copper toned pants, and brown brogues would lead us to the car.
“Time to get out of town, girls!”
Along the way, he would stop at a candy factory to buy us a bag of Rock Candy. The candy was beautiful to behold and even sweeter to savor, the sugar and crunch divine.
Swinging the car into an alley within the city, my father would inch it along the narrow, darkened lane, shaded by the shops and buildings. Garbage cans lined the edges of the alley. Men in white undershirts with aprons tied at the waist stood and smoked or laughed behind the row of restaurants. A child peeked through an open window, curious about the little girls riding in the long, shiny car. A dog barked. The car would park and rest in a reserved stall located behind a garage.
Scuttling along the street, we would follow our father until we reached the door of a small restaurant. Entering, an ancient man would shuffle over and lead us to a table at the back of the restaurant. This is the same man who would one day hand me a wooden abacus, the very same one that he always used to calculate our bill at the end of the luncheon. I still have it, tucked safely within my grandmother’s china cabinet.
The men would be waiting, seated around the table. We filled the empty spots. My sister and I sat silent and watched the waiters carry platters of exotic food, our senses overwhelmed by the sights and the smells. The men would laugh and drink, catching up on business. Our father would order us ginger ale. We never knew the names of the men. We never spoke except to one another.
A tureen filled with chicken soup arrived, the chicken feet with claws floating in the broth. The men would laugh as my sister and I politely declined to sample. We waited for the rice and sweetened sauce of tomato beef. A waiter would pour us tea. The hot, sweet tea soothed. It was the tea’s unique aroma that arrested me.
As the meal came to its end, I would wait to discover my fortune, tucked away inside a curved, fragile, almond shell. Carefully, I crack the shell and unfurl the thin, white scroll to reveal a truth.
You are an adventurer traveling on the highway of life.
Time passed and the meals in China Town ceased, dining out with my father came to an end. Perhaps I became interested in new events; perhaps my father became involved in other interests. Still the fond memories of being in his presence stay.
The woman in the teashop smiles and asks,
“May I help you find a tea?”
“Could you? Let me describe it to you,” I reply.
“I know the one,” she says and reaches behind her to lift a golden urn from the shelf.
“It is an oolong tea. Iron Goddess Mercy.”
The woman lifts the lid from the urn and offers it to me.
“Inhale,” she says.
I know in an instant that this is the tea of memory, a tea with a fitting name, Iron Goddess Mercy. A name that signifies indefeasible strength infused with kindness, compassion and grace.
Today the rain is relentless in its torrent. Spring is hiding behind the edges of the forest. It is a day for Mercy. I fill the aluminum kettle with water and place it onto the stove’s element awaiting the water’s reluctant boil. I lift the tea tin from the shelf above the stove and open the lid, inhaling the leaves inimitable odor. Next, I place a small amount of the tea into the waiting infuser. Placing the infuser into the teapot, I pour the hot water over the furled and balled leaves.
“Wake up, Mercy,” I whisper. The lid rests upon the teapot; I know to give her time to mix magic.
I pour the tea into a mug and slowly sip the sweet flavor. The rain steadily falls outside the window. Inside, in this moment, I am warm for I have found my tea memory.