Tea towels

Yesterday morning, two letters from Homeland Security arrived in the post, announcing Mattie’s and my permanent residency. We have enjoyed temporary green cards for a couple of years now but these will be the real thing. The cards, so the letters informed us, will arrive within 60 days and as Mike, Mattie and I stood together in the kitchen, we discussed how long the process had taken to get to this point. Mattie suggested four years but I thought it closer to five, given the fact that Mike had initiated the process almost a year before we left the UK. In the same post as the Homeland Security letters was a parcel from my mother: along with two books that she thought I might like came a tea towel, which made me smile.

When Mattie and I first arrived in the US, I at first found it difficult to find the type of tea towel (ie, made of linen) that we have in the UK. Here, they tend to be more like the kitchen towels you use to wipe your hands with. So having mentioned this both to my sister, Molly, and my mother, a steady stream of tea towels has crossed the Atlantic ever since.

The first of our tea towel collection was given to us by friends Chris and Richard at a neighbours’ farewell party shortly before we left Lewes. It is a handsome tea towel that depicts images of Lewes, like the Castle (just down from our old home on the High Street), St Anne’s Church (where Mattie loved to see the nativity play each Christmas), and cobbled Keere Street, down which I walked Mattie each week day, first to nursery and then to primary school.

Eight months after our departure, during our first Christmas in San Antonio, included in sister Molly’s gift package were two turquoise-and-white check tea towels from a favourite shop in Lewes. And for my birthday that August, two pretty, pale blue, pink and red ones – depicting various types of teapots, cups and saucers, and trays of cakes – arrived. These invoke memories of the tea parties that Mattie and I often hosted for close friends and neighbours at our old house on the High Street; I remember putting out the best china, making egg & cress sandwiches and that Mattie loved to decorate the fairy cakes. Tea would usually be served in the kitchen, which overlooked the garden and you could see the south downs in the distance.

On our second Christmas in San Antonio, Mum included in her gift package two tea towels from Charleston (former home and gathering point of members of the Bloomsbury Group). These depicted a traditional Charleston print of birds and flowers, which invoke memories of my first visit to Charleston, soon after it opened to the public back in the late 1980s – I had just moved to Lewes around that time and the period is very dear to me and one I am currently writing about in my first book of fiction.

For Christmas 2014, Mandy sent me a coral-coloured tea towel of flowers and doves, and from Mum two tea towels depicting garden vegetables arrived in the mail. Then this Christmas, Mum sent a tea towel printed with a 2016 calendar surrounded by rather splendid red blooms. We have had a bit of a tough start to 2016, what with Mattie experiencing some teenager ups and downs, but our lives are now moving into full swing again, we are experiencing beautiful winter weather and the plants on my Victorian potting table (from Ludlow, England) are beginning to bloom. So I expect that in future years, when I bring out this particular tea towel to dry the dishes, these are the memories it will surely bring forth.

Now with a full drawer of tea towels, I had wondered whether to tell Mum that there was no need to send any more. Instead I told her how much I loved them, which were my favourite designs and which dried the crockery best. So I should not have been surprised when the latest tea towel arrived this week. ‘Dig For Victory’, a well-know British wartime slogan from World War II, is written in bold black letters on a dark lemon background and it features a garden trug full of veggies, the sort of trug that you see in many a shop in Sussex. This tea towel brings back memories of the time when my back garden in Lewes had been re-designed and I would plant up the raised vegetable bed and make trips to local nurseries hunting unusual plants. And the wartime message has a grit to it which I find particularly apt at this time of struggling at times with a teenager! So after I have washed this latest addition, it will join all the other tea towels in the kitchen drawer, taking their turn to be used in our south Texas home, and all of them bringing a smile to my lips.

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