My grandmother, Blanche, made the best iced tea. It was the ritual I loved. She’d boil water in a large pan and add a generous portion of loose tea leaves as the water continued to boil. She’d then let it steep for a few minutes as she got everything else ready. She added sugar to the tea pitcher and ice (the ice machine produced four connected crescent moons of ice in sequence) to the large Victorian (I really don’t think they were Art Deco, but maybe) goblets.
Once the tea had steeped sufficiently, she strained the tea into the tea pitcher, creating a super-saturated solution of strong black tea and what most respectably regulated people would describe as too much sugar. While the tea was still warm, she’d pour it into the goblets, and those frozen crescent moons would scream in protest, cracking with a ferocity that made me fear the glass would come apart, but it never did. Brought to the lips, the tea was a sweet mixture of warm and cool replenishing dry throats. I don’t believe the world contains a more satisfying way to quench thirst.
When I was young, she lived in Galena Park, Texas, and at the time the only way to cross the Houston Ship Channel from Galena Park to Pasadena was through the Washburn Tunnel. Large bridges now carry several lanes of traffic across the channel, but in those days only one lane of traffic at a time could pass through. Thanks to the paper factories, refineries, and grain elevators, Galena Park had a distinctive smell in those days, and the smell was concentrated inside the tunnel. I don’t think I will ever forget that smell.
And if you passed through with Blanche driving, you’d be in the tunnel for awhile. She was cautious and never bothered about the tailbacks she created as she made her way from one side to the other. I usually prefer a quicker pace in life, but I found great amusement in giving the drivers behind us a few moments to reflect on their life choices and contingent salvation.
In the early days of my life, I would sometimes get frustrated when she would start a story and then say, “Well, I can’t tell that,” leaving me to wonder what adventure or scandal she was hiding from my innocence. When I was older, though, I liked to visit her to hear her spinning yarns with considerably less obfuscation. A few family secrets came out, but mostly they were tales of her time working in a hospital. She had been a teacher and later worked in hotels and hospitals. Anyway, the hospital tales weren’t really scandalous, but they sometimes included more detailed descriptions of medical waste than some people would prefer. I loved hearing them, though.
She and my grandfather had a beach house in Bolivar, Texas, and they would sometimes fish from the jetties. I can’t remember all the details, but on one occasion I think she was wrestling a catch from the water when she slipped in and was forced to struggle back onto the jetty. I just remember her saying, “When I fell in, I had my keys in my bra. By the time I got out, they were in my panties!” She was a woman to be reckoned with.