So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?
Hello all, this intro is from your current Pfister Narrator, Jonathan West. It’s with the greatest of honors that I share with you this Guest Narrator post today from my immediate predecessor, the inimitable Anja Notanja Sieger. While I was out of town over the holidays, Anja recently spent a lovely tea time with some special ladies who believe that celebrating a birthday is not merely a once-a-year affair, but something that you should put on your calendar at least every month. I think you’ll enjoy Anja’s tale just as much as I did.
Every month Margaret’s daughters take her out to celebrate her birthday, because once you turn 90 you have to celebrate your birthday every month. This month they’re having teatime in Blu.
Juan, the tea master wheels a cart over to the party and initiates us:
“I am going to pass thirteen tea jars to you so you’ll have a chance to smell and select the one you’re going to be drinking.” He unscrews the jars and hands each to Margaret first, “This is the 1893 Rose Melange… Chinese oolong green tea, very light on the palate… German chamomile blossoms, a very soothing and relaxing tisane… Cinnamon plum… Hibiscus with a blend of berries and mango flavors… Tangerine ginger… Earl grey with a blend of lavender flowers along with bergamot oil essentials, it has a brothy flavor to it along with an amber color… This one comes from Sri Lanka, a Ceylon, stands very well with milk.
One of Margaret’s daughters interjects, “Which one goes best with champagne?”
Juan smiles and continues, “A white tea infused with peach blossoms… A green tea from the region of Pu-erh… Chocolate chai, it has cacao nibs, coconut shea beans, yerba mate, dried dandelion roots, cardamom, vanilla and long pepper… This one here is making an appearance for the season, it is called: Cocoa mint… And lastly a black tea infused with sencha vanilla bean, very aromeric and flavorful.” I’m not correcting aromeric to “aromatic” as I relish how Juan jumbled the word into something more enticing and elevated to the world of the senses than the usual phrase.
I am one of nine women gathered for tea, and impressively, none of us orders the same tea, and Margaret doesn’t even want tea. After sniffing hearing the described virtues of all thirteen varieties she just wants a hot chocolate. After nine decades she really seems to have a grasp on what she desires and has no trouble asking for it. Meanwhile, Margaret’s daughters ask her, “So Ma, how did you get to be ninety years old?”
“I got to go to college because in the summer I would work for a restaurant in the Wisconsin Dells.” Teenaged Margaret started work on the first day of the summer and for three months she’d never have a day off as a waitress. “That was the rule,” confirms Margaret. After graduating from The Milwaukee State Teachers College, she taught first grade for thirty years until she retired. Margaret taught jillions of kids how to read, including her own grand niece who had learning disabilities. She didn’t even quit her day job once she became a mother to Art, Jane, Tom, Nancy and Barb. There was only one bathroom, no shower. On Saturday nights the children took their weekly bath before shining their shoes.
Margaret liked to sew. She made Halloween costumes, a Santa Claus suit, lovely dresses for her daughters and granddaughters, teddy bears and kangaroos for students to hold at rest time at school, table runners, aprons, seat cushions, and matching swim trunks for her boys. They were striped and long before long swim trunks were popular, but they were made long so that they could grow into them.
Sitting beside Margaret is her great-granddaughter Lauren, who just turned 13. Lauren aspires to be a surgeon and likes going deer hunting with her brother, Margaret’s only other great-grandchild. In the summertime when Lauren was little she’d come visit Grandma Margaret on Lake Winnebago, a very algae ridden lake. “I’d come swim and then rake her seaweed,” explained Lauren.
Margaret has splendid health, her only ailments being mild Parkinson’s and severe gluten intolerance. It is revealed that I am united with Margaret in that we both have celiac disease. She found out she had it when she was 70, and before the diagnosis they suspected she had intestinal cancer. After the diagnosis she got a bread maker and lived. I found out I had celiac when I was 21 and before the diagnosis I took three naps a day. After the diagnosis I spent year subsisting off of avocados and zucchini until my gut healed, and I too lived.
I admit I’ve always avoided teatimes because I assumed it would just be a sort of gluten fest, cookies, crumpets and lady finger sandwiches wagging at me in a taunting chorus, “No, you can’t have this, no, no, nyah-nyah-nyah!” So I am amazed when a tiny tiered platter of gluten free delicacies are set out just for Margaret. I am amazed again when she requests that I sit beside her and share the hors d’ouevres which were made specifically for her and none of which happen to taste even remotely gluten free. Thank goodness. Included on the platter are these pita slices with dallops of hummus, and the pita even has that powdery surface I recall from years ago when I last ate gluten. This is pure miracle.
Margaret goes straight for the chocolate covered strawberries, while I prefer the cucumber sandwiches and savory items. Margaret has a sweet tooth, and her favorite ice cream is white chocolate with raspberries from Kelley’s, a creamery outside the town of Eden that boasts something like 106 different flavors including chocolate covered potato chips and a thanksgiving dinner flavored concoction known as “turkey lurkey.”
After spending seven decades as a reading teacher and matriarch, it appears some caretaker instincts are ingrained, such as turning the platter just so that the very able bodied twenty-something kid beside her can have a slightly easier reach to the cream dalloped pastries. “Don’t burn yourself on this tea kettle, it’s hot,” Margaret warns me.
I am told that Margaret is having the time of her life. She plays dominoes, and is known as the “bingo queen.” She recently moved to her own condominium, and now for the first time in her life she lives alone and on her own terms.