For months now I've been trying to get my German neighbor, Thea, to come for afternoon tea. It gives me an excuse to bring out my mother's teapot, bone china from England, that I use for special occasions. But every time I ask her she has a reason why she can't make it: in the summer it was too hot; in Sept. she was too tired; on Halloween her daughter was in town; I called her this weekend but she was feeling a little under the weather.
Thea was a refugee after the war, forced to leave her home in Silezia and head south with the clothes on her back. As a young school girl, she remembers getting up early in the morning and tuning into the Voice of America from London. Her uncle, who was also up early to feed the goats, would shake his finger at her and warn her not to play the radio so loud, "I will not turn you in, but we have neighbors!" Since losing her husband three years ago, she's been feeding all the wild animals in the neighborhood: phlegmatic raccoons, waddling skunks, and about a dozen stray cats. She's like St. Francis of Assisi, the animals just come to her. The only problem is that all those animals leave a terrible stink that filters up into my office window. I thought at tea I could gently mention it.
Instead I saw her this morning while I was sneaking around taking pictures of her strays.
She stood in her driveway with binoculars searching for the hawk circling above her house. I shouted out to her and she walked over to my side yard, down below. We talked about how she was feeling, the books she's been reading when she wakes up in the middle of the night, her need to get out once in a while to the hairdresser. She looked worn out and thin, standing in the morning light, but beautiful. Thea has a lot of stories to tell, but maybe she doesn't want to tell them anymore. She's old, she's tired, perhaps she's content to stay home with her cats.
My mother's teapot will have to wait.