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The first tea set came from Italy, a poignant reminder from Jan’s brother Rod that he could not come to our wedding because he was serving the U S Navy on a destroyer tender in the Mediterranean that year. He thought of his sister when he shopped on shore leave, and found a white china tea set elaborately decorated with silver vines and flowers. His taste was exquisite, and the set was too pretty to use every day, so it has been prominently displayed wherever we lived, and used for special occasions.

The second tea set came from our seminary neighbors and friends; he had grown up in Thailand and India while his father had served as a missionary. The china teapot was a rich, mottled blue, and the cups small and with no handles, with the white and black figures of pussy willow branches climbing their sides—broadly Asian in inspiration—they easily served us every day and got a lot of use while we thought of ourselves as distant from the world around us but alive in our private garden.

The third tea set was plastic pink and white and a child’s plaything as our daughter went through the terrible two’s, but somehow she settled down to play with her future set before her, among her friends or by herself. The set itself hung around our house for more than two decades until it was replaced by a small, miniature, plain china set that our three granddaughters could use when they held elaborate tea parties, as they dressed to the nines while their grandparents served them as their butler and maid.

We inherited the fourth tea set when my parents died, first my mother, then my father. It came to my house with Father, when he had to leave his own farm home and come to live with us. My mother had chosen the silver tea service as they celebrated their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and it served many neighborhood and church group teas from then until they passed their fifty-sixth anniversary and she died unexpectedly.

Now those tea sets sit in their various places, while we enjoy our morning tea, without caffeine, steeped in cups that come from none of the tea sets, but they each have their own history, too. Each marks a special time in our lives that is fondly remembered. When we finally put them away, delivering them to someone else to use, the memories will remain with us, tucked away somewhere inside our brains. Tea and those we love.

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