It begins with a note written in blue ballpoint, the script small, the delicate loops and curves only hinting at a quaver. She’s read my newspaper column about practicing the Sabbath and has written to offer encouragement. The following month I receive a second note, and the month after that a third. Each is signed the same way: Your sister in Christ, Virginia.
I write back each time, just a quick note of thanks. This last time, I ask if she’d like to have coffee sometime. I assure her I’m not creepy or a stalker.
Two days later I open the mailbox to find an invitation to a Valentine’s Tea. And so, on Sunday afternoon, Noah and I drive to the retirement complex. We’ve been asked to bring a tea cup, and I know immediately which one I’ll take. It sits on my bedroom dresser next to her silver tray: Nana’s Royal Albert bone china cup and saucer, the pink one with the pastel roses, edges rimmed in gold. Nana had a full set of china teacups, all of them different, but this was the one I always chose. She’d fill it with tea, and with the miniature silver tongs I’d pluck sugar cubes from the footed bowl and drop them one by one into the china cup. When I lifted the rim to my lips, Nana would remind me to sip not slurp and hold my pinkie finger in the air, “like a lady.”
Virginia greets Noah and me at the door. She’s wearing a bright red cardigan, a navy blue skirt and hose. Her white hair is curled and styled. I’m underdressed in jeans, and I’ve forgotten to wear red. Noah grips a black Doane College coffee mug – he’d balked against the “girly” teacup – and I cringe at his sneakers, which are caked with dried mud. “You must be Michelle,” she says, and I clasp my teacup and saucer in one hand as I embrace her at the doorway to the dining room. “This young lady writes for the paper,” she tells to her sister and sister-in-law, and I laugh a little, explaining, “Well only once a month.”
We sit in folding chairs, at long tables covered in vibrant table runners and festooned with flowers and hearts. Noah and I select the green mint tea, and I think of Nana when I hold the handle of my cup with two fingers, my pinkie in the air. We share the stories of our teacups, and I piece together bits of Virginia’s life – Nebraska-born farm girl, Seventh Day Adventist, devoted wife to George, who is down the hall in their first-floor apartment. She’s in her mid-80s, but could easily pass for 70, with her twinkling eyes and neatly coiffed hair.
“We’ll have a ‘cuppa’ sometime – you have my number,” Virginia reminds before I leave. I bend down and quickly kiss her soft cheek. “I look forward to it,” I tell her. “I’ll call you soon.”
As we head out the front doors and into the frigid air, Noah and I both have more spring in our step. It might be the caffeine…or maybe it’s simply from meeting Virginia.