Monday, July 03, 2006

ice tea

I just finished mowing the lawn and weedeating in preparation for tomorrow's bbq and fireworks. I'm working on my third glass of ice tea. I love the stuff. Always have.

You know how some aromas and tastes evoke memories? That's the way it is for me with ice tea. I'm not talking about that insipid brown water they serve in restaurants, (except in the South where they know how to brew sweet tea). Hold a glass of tea up to the light. Is it red-brown? If not, you may not know what real tea tastes like. When I make tea I like to steep it for a long time and then when I pour it into a pitcher I toss the tea bags in too. Let them steep some more while we're drinking it. I don't use as much sugar as when I was a kid, but my tea has to be a little sweet. On a hot day like today, when the tea is just perfect, I can sit under the maple tree and enjoy memories like these:

In the early fifties my family lived in Hermosa Beach, California. Some summers, usually during August, we would drive back to Oklahoma to visit relatives. We would leave when Dad got off work on Friday evening and drive all night and all the next day across the desert. We were dead tired when we arrived in the land of red dirt and humidity that caused your clothes to stick to you.

One family I enjoyed visiting lived on a farm. They had a bunch of boys so we spent all our time at the creek swimming, catching turtles, and smoking grape vine. If we got thirsty one of the boys would raid his dad's melon patch. When he broke the watermelon over a rock, we would grab a handful of that red, sweet flesh and have a feast. When we were called to the house for a meal, we would eat fried chicken (from a bird that had been clucking and pecking at corn that very morning), vegetables right out of their garden. And ice tea. In mason jars. The ice was not white cubes from the refrigerator freezer, but chunks of clear ice chipped from a block that had required a trip to town to acquire. Today when I make ice tea, that's the tea I'm trying to make.

During the late fifties I would spend a week or two each summer with my grandmother who live in Manhattan Beach. We would go to the Redondo Library for the science fiction books we both enjoyed. We would take the books home and read them while we sipped ice tea. Two books I remember from that era were The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham and The Keeper of the Bees, by Gene Stratton Porter. In the evening we would watch tv shows like 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Seahunt. While we watched, we drank tea from fancy goblets. I always try to make my tea taste like it did then.

I was a teenager during the 60's and by that time had learned to make my own tea. Sometimes I would make just a single glass of it. I always had a glass of tea at my side when I sat up late to watch the Steve Allen Show on KTLA, Los Angeles. He was the funniest guy I'd ever seen, and I always used his jokes and copied his mannerisms to make people laugh. After his show, I usually sat up another couple of hours reading. It was during this time that I read Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, the Jack London books about the far north, and I also discovered John Steinbeck. The first Steinbeck novel I read was Cannery Row and I went on the read almost everything he had ever published. I usually slept until noon the next day, then walked to Dorothy's house to spend the day with her. She would make iced tea and we would drink it from those colorful aluminum tumblers that were so popular back then.

That's the tea I strive to create today, and every once in awhile I get it just right. And then, I can taste yesterday.


lucylocket said...

Lovely post! I thought no one else knew about smoking grapevine. Someone also taught me to smoke corn silk; I don't remember what we wrapped it in. I also remember those aluminum tumblers. Your hands would freeze by the time you finished your drink, but what a way to cool off on a hot summer day.

Morgan Wolf said...

Nice writing. Well-told. Thank you for sharing. I love how you used ice tea as the hook to hold that thread together.

Your story brought back memories of my own grandmother. We, too, used to sit up late together watching Alfred Hitchcock in the dark.

Also nice to recall mutual friends, Jack (London) and John (Steinbeck). The Call of the Wild and White Fang made me forever enamored of wolves. My first Steinbeck novel was Grapes of Wrath. Tom Joad's ghost still haunts me. It was the first book I ever read about transcendence of the self. I must have been about 10 or 11. It shook me. For the better. Thanks again.