I have many cups in my cupboard, small and large, expensive and economical. However, my favourite cup is my large (24 oz capacity) white enamel cup with black trim. Why? Because it offers a proper drink, whether it’s tea, swank, porridge or Milo. It’s the kind of cup with which you can recline, put up your feet, and have a nice long drink as you take in your surroundings, contemplate the day ahead or unwind after a hard day.
My enamel cup is young; it’s only 5 years old. I bought it at one of the fancy kitchen stores here in Barbados for a whopping BDS$12 (US$6). When I saw the price I frowned, after all, I said, it’s only enamel! But I wanted it so I bought it. I am processing the reason why I bought the cup as I write this column. It was not something that I needed and it certainly was not something that reminded me of drinking tea as I was growing up, but I wanted it because it made me think of a time when eating and drinking seemed simpler. It was a piece of history, of life. What it did remind me of though is how attached people seem to be to their enamelware.
In our home I can only remember two pieces of enamelware. One was a small plate, almost like a saucer that mommy used to “spoon” the rice onto the plate. The other was a rectangle bowl-like pan, mommy liked to have her soup in that enamel pan, she won’t have her soup in anything else.
My dear and late uncle, Freddy, always liked to have his meals in a cream enamel plate with green trim, everyone else in the household ate from ware plates. Auntie Betty preferred her tea, coffee or Milo from her cream-colour enamel cup. Actually, she had two large enamel cups that she would use especially to cool and brew the tea. The sweetened-milked tea would be in one cup and she’d pour it into the other cup back and forth, raising her arms into the air as she poured, until the tea was cooled to the temperature she wanted it and there would be little frothy bubbles sitting on the surface of the cooled-brewed tea. Perhaps it is for these reasons and more that I picked up my enamel up years ago.
Some supporters of my work laughed aloud and remarked that they could not believe that I put my enamel cup in my book (pg 241). What they really meant was this. We are always taught to put out the best when entertaining – the fine China, silver cutlery etc, therefore, why would I put my enamel cup in a book for the entire world to see. What would people think?! I’m thinking that they would say, now that’s a proper cup! A nice long drink!
My sister and nephew visited me for a couple of weeks around Easter and my sister is a tea-swigging-coffee-loving person. She starts her mornings with coffee and at various intervals throughout the day right into the evening, large mugs of tea. Like me, she is not into dainty little cups of tea, she prefers long drinks. Knowing this, I took out one of my large, more expensive and prized tea/coffee mugs for her to use because my enamel cup was off-limits. Or so I thought. Every single day, each time she had coffee or tea it was exclusively in my enamel cup! And each time I felt a little irked. Why couldn’t she use the cup I offered her? More importantly, why wouldn’t she use the cup? It had the same capacity as my enamel cup and it looked and felt way more attractive. After a while I began to feel guilty at my reaction to her prolific use of my enamel cup. Am I being a bad host for feeling this way? Gosh, it’s only a cup, and an enamel cup no less. And besides, I don’t drink tea as often as she does so what was the problem?
I know all the psychologists reading this column can instantly offer me a number of reasons for my reaction and feelings to what must seem to some people as trite and trivial.
While I wait for someone to write to me offering an explanation, let me tell you a few things about me and that enamel cup. I don’t know if any of it makes sense to you.
Each morning when I take my tea (green, black, oolong, lemongrass, tulsi, bay leaves or other), I clasp my hands around my big enamel cup, hugging it fondly. Together we offer thanks for the day before I take my first sip. The day ahead is sketched out accompanied by mouthfuls of sweet aromatic tea. The long drink sustains me. Even when it’s empty, all the tea is gone, my cup sits there keeping me company. Sometimes I’d reach for it just in case there are a few drops still lingering. It’s my morning ritual when at home; it sets the tone for the day.
I like how pristine and white it gets after a splash of bleach wipes away the brown tea stains. My enamel cup is reborn, renewed. It sits on a particular spot on the shelf; it’s the first cup to my hand’s reach. I don’t have to look up to retrieve it; it is always there, faithful as ever. Imagine then how put out I was each morning as I reached for it but found an empty space. Where is my friend? Where is my beloved enamel cup?