Wartime tea parties, the downfall of economy and a harlequin teaset with chocolate cake and vanilla cookies
One of the fondest memories I have from my childhood is holidays spent at my grandparents in Lisbon. I would wake up every morning to the fragrant scent of toasts being made by my grandfather in the kitchen, light filtering in throught the wooden window shutters into my darkened bedroom, and I would stretch my legs and just lay there a little bit more, breathing in the smells coming from the kitchen, listening to the distant voices of my grandparents talking away, quietly.
Looking back in retrospect, these might not have been such perfect holidays as I thought they were, seen from other people's eyes. I was smack in the middle of the city - and let me tell you how I hate the city!! - there was no going to the beach nor my usual friends to play with, but there were beautiful parks at walking distance, and museums, and my grandparent's backyard, and as many books as I could read. There were also card games with my grandad, and sewing lessons with grandma, there were hours idling away playing with my mother's childhood dolls, especially the paper doll I loved so much, and there was Sherlock Holmes to read, and re read and discuss with my grandfather.
I honestly don't remember being bored, there, not the way my son claims to be bored most days while he is on holiday, despite having been provided with so much to do to entertain himself. I remember every morning waking up in antecipation of the day that was to come, the hours ahead of me filled with fun, so much to do, so little time to do it! I remember every noontime asking to be allowed to set the table in the dining room, despite the fact that my grandparents had a maid, but usually that task was done by my grandmother while she oversaw to lunch being made. I loved helping set the table, going through her beautiful tablecloths, the napkins, the dishes and the lovely cutlery, I loved just looking at all those beautiful, old things - not at all modern like my parents's stuff! - and sigh in delight with all of it.
Sometimes she would get out her harlequin teaset - this one, yes - when she had friends coming over, and she set a lovely table, where she would then linger over tea and biscuits and cake with her friends, all of them the wives of army men, as the gentleman went out to their officer's club, and they just spent their afternoon together, gossiping away and reminiscing on the days of olden. I would make myself small, and listen in, sometimes under the table, with my dolls, being very quiet so as not to be sent away, and I would revell in the stories they told.
You see, my grandparents lived through two world wars. My grandfather, being a military officer born and raised into a military family - it went back so many generations I cannot even recall the first army man in our family! - was sent here and there, sometimes for small stretches in time, sometimes for longer. He was once deployed to Macao, where his own grandfather had at a time been the Governor of the region, and lived there for many years, before meeting my grandmother, that was. So the military wives would get together, and keep each other company, and socialize. It was a sort of knitted society, very closed, but very tight, from the little I remember. And back in those days, when my grandparents met and got married, the Second World War was in full swing - my mother was born the year the war officially ended.
Everything was rationed, goods were scarce. It was hard to just let go and enjoy life, to have friends over for a party or a gathering, as there was not enough food or drink around for that. Yet still, as it was in may other European countries at the time, people need to congregate, come together, celebrate, enjoy themselves and party up. What they did back then, what my grandmother did - and many other women along with her - was have tea parties for the ladies while the officers were away, and every one of them would bring something.
One would bring a tin of cookies, the other the lemonade. Two would join in to provide the tea and coffee, and other two would make the sandwiches. The cake was always on the hostess, as it happened to be the most expensive item, because of the eggs, and so, with everyone pitching in, they were able to spend a lovely afternoon together, once a month, where they would forget about their everyday worries, and would just enjoy being there in each other's companies. The same for dinner parties, as I recall. The hostess would provide the main course, while guests would bring entrées and desserts, and the beverages. They would all dress up to the nines, and they would have music, and dance, and card games - my grandmother was great at playing Canasta - and make a night out of it.
We are thankfully not going through a world war, but economy is at its lowest - or is it just me? - and people just cannot afford to live the way they did ten, fifteen years ago. I used to have dinner parties every two weekends at my house. I loved having friends over and cooking delicious meals for them, and serving amazing food and good drinks, and enjoy a night of good conversation and fun amongst ourselves. Then when the economy dove down, I was not able to do that anymore. There was just no way we could afford to do it. And like us, many people must have gone through this. And because people cannot afford to party up in the way they did, they start to fall apart. How long as it been since you've had your girlfriends over for a nice afternoon filled with idle chat and laughs?
So why not get in touch with them, and grab a weekend afternoon for yourselves, and meet for a tea party? One would provide the house and the cake, and the rest of you could pitch in with mocktails, coffee, buns, scones, jams, butters, cookies, tea... whatever your fancy might be! One does not need to go off to somewhere fancy and expensive just to catch up and have a girls' only afternoon, one can do all that in the comfort of one's home, as long as everyone collaborates and pitches in. It will surely make for a different type of gathering, and it will surely be something you will cherish in your memory for a long time after. So why not grab that fancy dishware you keep for special days, and treat your girls to a special day together?