Sea, Snow, and Tea

In a box of family pictures, one always makes me smile. It’s a rare picture of me that I like. I’m about four, bundled in a lavender snowsuit with gray and white faux fur trim, and I’m lying on my back on a field of snow, making a snow angel. It’s a scene re-enacted on lawns around the world, whenever the snow is clean enough, deep enough, fresh and white and compelling. On the surface, there is nothing exceptional about this picture.

Except for the blue at the edge. Blue-gray, really. It’s the Atlantic Ocean, winter cold, colored that slate color that means instant heart-attack should you go in, and it’s lapping at the shore of my snow field, because I’m a beach baby from a long line of beach babies, and even in winter the sea draws us to it’s edge, calling our names with the foghorns and the sound of wind and surf, wooing us with the thought of a steaming mug of cocoa or hot tea afterwards.

It has to be tea if it isn’t cocoa, you see. The basic black Lipton stuff, with the word BRISK on the label, or G. I. tea (when I was that age my grandparents still did all their shopping at the commissary at Fort Monmouth), is actually welcome after a day at the snowy beach, but Earl Grey is acceptable as well. (Irish Breakfast and English Breakfast are not, they are too soft – Earl Grey is a sturdier blend.)

I’m not a particular fan of Norman Rockwell, but I remember a painting in his style, if not from his hand, of an old sea-captain type with his weathered, thick fingers wrapped around a mug of tea. My grandfather was Army, not Navy, but he loved the sea, as did my mother, as do I, so even though he wasn’t a sea captain in life, in my head, he fills that role. He snapped the picture I mentioned, and my mother stood by, and watched me. She’s in the picture too. There’s a second one, from the same day, with me, walking hand in hand with my grandfather. I’m tiny, still sporting snow on my pants, and he’s wearing his fisherman hat an a great pea-coat that looked like the word “warm.”

In my heart, he’s still sheltering my hand in his.

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