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For grown-up women in the South, the highlight of the summer months were those afternoon tea parties.
Both Aunt Bess (a staunch Presbyterian) and Mama who was a double dipper (sprinkled as a Methodist and baptized as a Baptist) were right in the middle of them.
The menu for most of these high-society daylight soirées was just about the same.
The Presbyterians were partial to pimento cheese sandwiches, while the Baptists liked chicken salad.
When combined on a table with Ritz crackers, a pat of sour cream and a cucumber circle beneath a green bell pepper slice, it was a sight to behold. Large batches of freshly brewed Russian tea filled our kitchen with its aroma.
Bless Pete, those green and pink mints made by Miss Carrie Funderburk, (which, by the way, were served at every bridge and garden club party in town) made these social events into a real shindig.
This definitely wasn’t the same kind of tea party fare (mud pies and china berries) served by my girl cousins.
Cups carefully wrapped in tissue were taken out of the large china cabinet and washed in scalding water. China plates were stacked between paper napkins. Dainty starched and ironed doilies were placed on a serving tray, awaiting none other than yours truly.
Depending on the season, the front porch had to be hosed down, before grass mats were strategically scattered about card tables and folding chairs. This scene was repeated several times a year at our house. It didn’t matter if it was the garden club, the book club, a church circle meetings the Daughters of the Confederacy or, lest I forget, the Daughters of the American Revolution.
I think those ladies belonged to some of these clubs just so they had a reason to hold their pinkies out and sip tea.
They might have liked ’em but I sure didn’t. I had to get washed down and cleaned up with slicked-back hair, cleaned and clipped fingernails and dressed in my Sunday finest just to politely pass out the white doilies.
These teas were a carryover from years long past. No wonder the South lost the War Between the States; from what I gather while eavesdropping on the UDC meetings, just about everybody’s daddy or granddaddy was a captain. That didn’t leave anybody to do all the regular soldier stuff like marching and shooting.
Now for me, these afternoon teas came and went without much fanfare, except for one, thanks to my dog, Tiger.
And looking back, it’s as funny now as it was then.
One summer afternoon, a bunch of ladies were sitting on our porch casually sipping Russian tea, but the circumstances were about to change, thanks to Tiger.
Now, on hot days – just as regular as clockwork – Tiger was partial to relaxing on the cool brick steps at the top of our front porch.
The morning before this tea, Aunt Bess made mention that Tiger had a certain odor and she didn’t want him on the porch that day.
I pulled Tiger close to see what she was talking about.
Shucks, he smells fine to me, I thought. I just let what Aunt Bess said go right on by.
Just before the tea was to begin, I had to pass muster to pass around napkins.
Mama called my name. I could tell by the sound of her voice that this was an important summoning with some urgency.
“Did you give Tiger a bath?” she asked. “That old dog stinks and I want him washed right now.”
Of course, I mentioned that I didn’t have time get both me and the dog cleaned up.
“You don’t have to pass out the napkins today, but I expect you to get that smelly dog washed right now,” she said in a stern tone. I knew she meant business.
Now, Tiger was pretty big and washing him was hard work. And whenever something he deemed as more important than soap suds caught his interest, he would leap right out of that wash tub and head that direction in a gallop.
At the time, the hose pipe had been moved to the spigot at the front of the house, near the walkway.
You know, deep down I knew I should have pulled the hose pipe around to the back spigot, but all of that porch scrubbing and setting up tables and chairs had me worn out.
I had just gotten a good start on the dog washing when those white-glove wearing ladies showed up for the meeting.
Mrs. Howard Williamson saw me and waved just about the time Tiger was wet down and soaped up.
Suddenly, a rabbit – startled by the proceedings and car door slamming – left its burrow and starting hopping across the yard.
Tiger, always alert, saw the little brown ball of fur. Sloshing around, Tiger jumped out the big wash tub, which frightened the poor rabbit even more.
The rabbit hopped onto the porch and ran under the assembled chairs and tables. By now, I’m sure you can see where this is going. Tiger was hot on the bunny trail.
Not meaning to be ugly, but as a young boy, I would have called the tea party ladies old, and well, sort of crotchety. However, these old girls weren’t quite as stuffy as I assumed. They got a kick out of the whole thing.
I never heard so much laughter coming from the porch as a lather-laden Tiger chased that rabbit on and across the porch before disappearing.
Both Mama and Aunt Bess were horrified, but some of the ladies said that was their best laugh in a long time.
I survived that tea party rabbit hunt. So did Tiger.
However, the afternoon teas at our house would never be the same. From that day on, Tiger was chained in the back yard before and during the proceedings. That was his last tea party.
As the years went by, the ladies and their summer teas on the porch disappeared. Another part of my early life was no more and life on Chesterfield Avenue was moving too fast.