Tadpoles were swimming around in the bowl next to me. The smell of rank pond water was starting to waft in my direction. I decided then might be a good time to move the boy’s pond exploration off the kitchen counter—I had serious work to do.
I slapped a stained, muddled looking journal onto the counter in the bowl’s place. It had been sitting in a drawer somewhere, forgotten for about six years. But time had not caused its dilapidated state. The journal had been my travel companion in the pre-children years, back when I used to trot around the county, and occasionally the world. I needed to dig through it today to find an important tidbit about that one visit that would never be repeated again.
My uncle passed away recently. There is something about living until the age of 91 that makes the passing less of a sad event, and more of a remembrance event. I needed to find that one page in the journal.
Here we are—2009. Yes, Hobo Tea. In that don’t-care-what-this-look-like version of my handwriting, the basics of the recipe were outlined as my uncle had instructed. I can remember standing in his kitchen on the demure colored linoleum. The tops of the kitchen cabinets were covered in antique collectibles that must have been an enormous effort to dust. He stood at the stove with his oddly shaped fingers—very wide knuckles with pointy fingertips—which looked like a physical representation of his personality. There was nothing typical about this man. He was an absolute character.
I’ll show you how to make Hobo Tea, his voice resounded in my head as I read the first step. Fill medium sized pot with water. Hmm…medium sized. I grabbed a random pot and set it down on the stove, then watched the six tea bags immediately turn the water into a murky shade similar to the pond water, but certainly smelling better.
I read onward, skimming through the instructions. As far as I could tell it was just a regular recipe for sweet tea, but of course, coming from my uncle it couldn’t be just sweet tea. It was Hobo Tea, because nothing was ever just something to him (unless being just happened to make it outlandish). Unintentionally, he had a way of turning the mundane events of life into tall tales. Life was an eccentric place with those invisible special lenses he wore.
Decaf tea, I read from the side of the box. That’s going to have to do the job. Caffeine and I are not friends. In my head I could almost hear the snort he would have made in response. That ain’t tea, he’d say. I’m sure he’d be right—he must have had good sense about things, or very good luck. He was the sort of person that could get into an infinite amount of scrapes and somehow walk away unscathed.
Boy was he a drinker when he was young, my mom always says. He used to go to those biker bars on the bad side of town. He’d always walk away unscathed, somehow. Everybody knows someone like that—is it pure luck, or Divine Providence?
Add lemon and three scoops of sugar to the bottom of the pitcher. Hmm…I wonder what he had in mind for a scoop… I decided to go heavy-handed. I’ve never known a southerner to go light-handed with the sugar, and I’m one of them. The dogs barked and I set the scoop down. I gazed at them staring out the front windows, and I thought about the categories we fall into in life.
My uncle was in the wild category. He was one of nine kids, and the only rebellious one. He was a free spirit, and at times a trouble-maker, but his heart was pure. We judge the ones in the wild category harshly sometimes, and forget to weigh their hearts. By the time you are 91, the weight of the heart is all that really matters. Just then I could hear his characteristic devious chuckle in my head. Even in old age it was a clear indication of that wildness. What a shame we can’t make people young again, if even for just one day, and experience the wildness in their prime.
I poured in the brown liquid the color of healthy soil, or the color of an oak tree’s bark after a hard rain. The lemons scurried about as the waterfall of liquid earth came rushing down to them. I stirred swiftly with a wooden spoon, feeling a laziness come over me. It was as though the laziness of a hot summer afternoon had already settled onto me before even touching a glass of the cold tea.
Shit! The sugar. I’m already not following his directions…I hopped up and poured three scoops of that white good stuff in and watched it mingle. Sugar is always a social butterfly. And then I added the ice to liven up the tea party, and then the stir, stir, stir. Next the slow pour into blue glass, with the soft clink of ice cubes settling into the miniature pond they would be giving themselves up to as soon as I went out onto the hot porch.
I took a tentative sip. I’ve never been a fan of black tea, any way you slice it. Wow, I paused to take another sip. Hobo Tea is delicious. I carried my glass covered in condensation out with me to the porch rocker. My uncle had watched me get married in my backyard from within that old wicker rocker. I rocked back and forth as I took a sip and held it upward. The fogged glass turned the trees and all of my surroundings into a muddled blur of pretty colors.
May we all learn to turn the mundane into tall tales. I took a sip of the tea in an honorary way. May we all see life through special lenses.