Copyright © 2004 Henrietta W. Hay
Remembering Mary Brown - and Tea
December 10, 2004
The first woman I met when we moved to Grand Junction in 1945 was Mary Brown, who became my lifelong friend. She was working behind the check-out desk in the Grand Junction Public Library on White Ave. and I went in to get a Library card. Mary died this fall, but we had nearly 60 years of a good friendship.
Some years ago, several of us had a 75th birthday party for Mary and I wrote a column about it. Here it is again -- for Mary.
Recently I helped a friend of mine celebrate her 75th birthday. Until the end of the party, when the hostesses were sitting around with their shoes off talking, I had not stopped to think how utterly incongruous the whole thing was for women of my generation. On the table were a beautiful centerpiece, a birthday cake , a family heirloom sterling silver tea service -- and paper cups and plates, albeit very fancy ones.
We got to reminiscing about "teas" and I suddenly realized that we had all had the same mother! Our mothers were Victorians - raised on propriety, and they raised their daughters the same way - or tried to.
Some of them, including mine, were already scenting freedom and were destined to become active in the long battle for women's rights, but form was still all important All of us in the circle grew up being prodded and trained and threatened by our mothers as we learned to move socially, more or less graciously with our hats and white gloves.
We could remember when the word "tea" meant, not something that you drink out of a mug, but a form of entertainment and a form of behavior. We went off to college to find that "tea" included all sorts of social activities. Practically any get-together for the purpose of meeting new people or celebrating something was called a "tea". We spent a lot of time standing around socializing and drinking tea - out of cups with saucers. The sixties children will shake their heads at the whole idea, but at that time we knew that we had best mind our carefully learned manners if we ever wanted to go home again. This was, of course, before Thomas Wolfe discovered that we couldn't anyway.
And here we were in Grand Junction in 1988 mixing heirloom silver and paper plates. I don't think any of us thought much about what had happened in the intervening years until we got to talking about our youth and discovered its common thread.
I am not about to discourse on the relative advantages of growing up with white gloves and growing up without them. I am sure my kids would never believe that I ever wore them. But it is kind of fun to think about. Certainly a kind of formality did not hurt us any and maybe it has even made it easier for us to negotiate some of the pitfalls that we have encountered.
But we are living in a different world. Personally I much prefer this one. Social relationships are more casual and generally more honest.
We are more interested in the people than in the form. Those of us at the party know that. We have managed to move comfortably into the casual infor- mality of the 80's and have perhaps even helped lead the way. But still, I suspect, we carry way back in our collective consciousness the traditions our mothers pounded into us.
Where but at a 75th birthday party will you find a beautiful sterling coffee service and paper plates?
So long, Mary.