Wednesday, November 26, 2008

LA TEA DA


If I had to stage a formal English Afternoon Tea for a group of four-year old girls, I’d probably need to engage in a séance to the Other Side to get instruction from my Godmother Dora in order to pull it off. Bishop Willis Henton’s wife, Martha, (now deceased) once visited London and brought me two how-to books about tea parties so I could master this art, but I failed the test on scone making. I finally passed on the little books to a friend who only has to read any instruction manual about cooking/ serving and is able to put on an excellent meal, tea, or holiday celebration.

Here in New Iberia, the Queen of Tea Time (who was actually King Sucrose’s royal mate at Sugar Cane Festival celebrations this year) is Betty LeBlanc. Betty served as the president of the Board of Directors for Solomon House when I was director of this outreach mission. She’s originally from New Albany, Mississippi, not far from Oxford, Mississippi and Memphis, Tennessee. Her mother presided at the table of The Oaks in New Albany and also at Elgin Plantation on the Natchez Tour of Homes, so Betty is adept at creating the right ambience for what she calls “tea-lightful” experiences. When I left New Iberia to summer at Sewanee last year, she had begun launching her Tea Parties service, ranging from “La Tea Da” parties for pre-teens, teen-agers, and young adults to “Granny’s Attic Dress Ups” for girls ages 4-12.

Betty’s goal is to foster good manners, poise, and social graces, and she also teaches tea history at the table for these young people. As Betty is an interior decorator, her home is a showplace of fine furniture and accouterments, and she brings out china cups, silver spoons, and tea service to prepare children for future fine dining experiences -- the teas are also opportunities for young women to create wonderful memories for succeeding generations. Even four-year olds are allowed to use lipstick, lip gloss, blush, and perfume, and they dress in “older ladies attire” to transform into young ladies attending an afternoon tea.

Yesterday, we enjoyed lunch with Betty, and she showed us all the photographs of her tea events, including the latest one she held for a group of six-year olds. After viewing the photo of this party held on Betty’s glassed-in porch, Vickie Sullivan wrote the following verse about the six-year olds “taking tea.”

TEA PARTY

“Look, I’m pretty,
I’m so pretty,”

the skin of her shoulders
as smooth as a seal’s,

cheeks bright, lips reddened,
ear ornaments dangling

under ancient hat and veil,
blond tresses wafting perfume.

She eats sweet cakes with the silver,
crumbs falling on pink linen,

her bare toes wriggling
beneath an old lady dress;

basking in the sun
of her first real tea party,

the camellia in a southern garden.
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