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© Joan Currie

Would you like a little more tea?
Lewis Carroll – Alice in Wonderland

My best elementary school memories in Canada are associated with the daily communal singing of “God Save the Queen” to a picture of Her Majesty wearing a lovely diamond tiara and ermine stole, and having tea with my mother – a reward for a scholar’s toils well done. After mother inspected my penmanship, arithmetic, and spelling papers, we would move into the living room and the ritual of taking tea would begin.

Unlike today, where people pop in and out of coffee shops whenever they feel inclined, having tea at four o’clock required a certain restraint. It was a demonstration of good breeding to reign in one’s desire and wait until the appointed hour. If anyone wished to call on my mother, it would be at tea time.

Visitors would be offered a cozy chesterfield or armchair in which to sit and could look forward to an hour of bliss – excellent conversation, orange pekoe tea served in English bone china cups with pink cabbage roses and plates laden with scones and clotted cream, crumpets and maple syrup, or thumbprint cookies and strawberry jam. It was a gentle, genteel, and feminine ritual of hearth and home. This activity punctuated the day with pleasantry, allowed for pause and reflection, and taught a young schoolgirl about one of the niceties of life.