Saturday, May 12, 2018

Tea Cups and Old Country Roses

As we celebrate Mother's Day this weekend, I'm dedicating this special post to my dear Mom, Evelyn.

I've been thinking about tea cups and china dishes. What set off this particular musing began when my mom recently opened her china cabinet, took her Old Country Roses tea pot and a quartet of cups and saucers from their spot, and gave them to me. She said, 'I'm giving you the teapot because you are the tea lady in the family. I want you to have it'. My feelings were mixed. I was elated to become the keeper of these beautiful pieces, honoured and humbled in fact. At the same time, I felt a tug inside. Mom's beautiful china set, an integral part of our family tradition for over five decades, will no longer be complete. Surely this transfer signaled a shift and my inner historian needed to mark the moment in some way. Not just for me, but for everyone in the family.

Will you sit and have a cup of tea with me? Your company would be most appreciated. I feel the need to revisit some childhood memories and ponder the role a few tea cups and a Royal Albert china dinner set have played in the life of my family.

Where we lived and grew up, it was the custom of the day for young women to collect items in their hope chests, in anticipation of one day setting up their own bridal homes. China tea cups were one of those cherished items to be collected and were usually given as shower gifts. As a young bride, my mom started married life with her own set of lovely tea cups from family and friends. They would sit nestled in the china cabinet and were brought out when company came to visit. She often told us, as she took them out, who had given which cup to her. If she didn't happen to mention the litany one day, I'd be there nudging her to tell the story again. I loved the little ritual -- it was like getting a tiny glimpse of my mother's history, BBC time (Before Brenda Came).

Some traditions are handed down almost unconsciously, for many years later, when I'd bring out my own shower and wedding gifts to use, I found myself rehearsing who had given what to me. It was about wanting to remember the person who had shared something of herself with me through the giving of this gift. It needed to be appreciated. Perhaps that's what Mom was doing all those years earlier.

1959. Uncle, Dad, Brenda age 2, Mom

I don't remember the first time I was given the opportunity to sip from one of these pretty company cups, but, you will notice I started young. Yes, that's me in my high chair with a tea cup. I'm surprised I was trusted to handle one, but you notice both parents are sitting nearby to keep a watchful eye. We didn't have sippy cups in those days -- as toddlers, we went straight from the baby bottle to the grownup cup or glass.

A very sad thing happened to Mom's one-of-a-kind teacup collection. No, it wasn't me. Long years ago now, she had carefully packed the delicate cups into a box as some renovations were going on. Somehow in the confusion of the time, the box of tea cups vanished. We kept hoping that one day the box with its treasure might be found, safely stored in a forgotten corner of the attic, but alas it never happened. Mom assumed it had been accidentally removed with the renovation clean up, although there were cries of protest from the reno team. Whatever happened, we still feel a lurch in our stomachs when we talk about them. Such pretty teacups with their unique shapes, patterns, and designs, lost except for the memory of them in our minds.

Over the years, Mom kept her eyes open for new china tea cups and saucers at thrift stores and garage sales. Sometimes she'd find a real treasure and bring it home. Sometimes she'd find a cup and saucer that was similar to an old one. She doesn't shop much for them anymore, except once in a while she still gets an urge to find something new and pretty. More recently, she's been selecting teacups from her regathered collection and giving them to her daughters and granddaughters as birthday and Christmas gifts. They might not be Mom's original bridal teacups, but there is still a handing down of something lovely that is sweet and filled with tradition.

The tea cups displayed above and below are two such gifts. The violet pattern cup was the most recent gift, receiving it for my birthday, just past.

* * *

Tea cups ... such tiny works of art. Treasures of beauty and grace and charm. When we take the time to pull out the pretty cups from the cupboard, an ordinary moment transforms into some extraordinary. Everyone feels it. Smiles break out as tea is poured. The British really do know that a cup of tea is much more than a few leaves steeped in hot water.

I used to have little tea parties all the time. I wonder why I don't do it as much these days. Surely in these trying times, more than ever we need to keep up the gentle regime of having a spot of tea with a friend. Perhaps with a beautiful, new teapot in my care, it's my personal signal to start up the tradition again.

A further note, I just remember that my dear friend-cum-sister Jean a short time ago gave me her beautiful blue and white Russian teapot and four gorgeous matching china mugs. That means, in recent days, I have been the beneficiary of not just one, but two teapots.

Okay, Lord, I'm getting the hint.   

* * *

Changing directions slightly, my sister Kathy has taken up a new interest in sketching and painting. When I asked her if she'd consider doing a painting of Mom's teapot from her Old Country Roses dinner set for this Mother's Day post, Kathy was game to try. As you will see below, I think she's done a lovely job, don't you? She found it challenging and mentioned being glad she didn't have to paint roses on china for a living. She felt it was a little beyond her 'pay scale', but, still, we both agreed, it would be a lovely way to make a living if one was so inclined.

"Life is short -- use the fine china."

For the occasion, I asked my siblings if they'd add something to the conversation about Mom's china, something from our childhood years. They agreed.

Kathy says, "When I was growing up, the appearance of Mom's china on the table always meant that some festive occasion was about to be celebrated. Whether it was family birthdays or Christmas and Easter, or the reams of company that sat at our cozy farmhouse kitchen table, these occasions always warranted using the lovely place settings, along with the elegant teapot and dainty teacups and saucers. The lace tablecloth would be lovingly spread over the table, then the dinner plates laid just so, all in readiness for the delicious food Mom would serve. In Mom's hands, treasured plates and teacups became more than just dishes. Looking back now, it was a way for Mom (and Dad, who loved the gracefulness of a well-designed coffee mug) to honour their family and friends, to bring out the 'best' dishes for a visit around the table. 

My brother David said he had no idea of the subtleties of 'china appreciation' as a boy growing up. China patterns weren't on his mind all too often. But he does remember going to other people's houses for Sunday Dinner and recognizing that he thought his mom's china was the best. He also recalls trying to figure out if the floral pattern was exactly the same on each plate. I wonder if studying the patterns was how he amused himself when the adult conversation murmured around him. 

Youngest sister, Janet, says she has always loved Mom's Old Country Roses pattern and still thinks it’s the prettiest pattern out there. She wonders why she didn’t choose it for her own dinner set years ago. Her memories have more to do with sound -- the sound of gentle clinking as someone held a stack of 6 or 8 (12 was too heavy) dinner plates, then gently lifting the top plate off the pile and setting it on the tablecloth-covered table. It was the sound of 'special' to her -- special food, special celebrations, and special friends or new acquaintances, like missionaries or guest preachers.

Janet goes on to say, "I love that Mom made such good use of her china to make people feel welcome – and special! There was something wonderful about 'getting out the china' because it was out of the ordinary, a moment tinged with excitement. Then there was the smell of the old china cabinet. Same thing – opening the door smelled like company. A waft of wood and furniture oil and maybe scented candle. I wish sometimes we could transport back to those good times. Such lovely memories!"

"Old Country Roses was inspired by a typical English country garden with flowers in bloom and is recognized by its signature clusters of roses in deep red, bright pink and warm yellow, offset by brilliant stippled gold rims and accents. Made from pure white bone china, the pattern features a flamboyant, curvaceous fluted shape, with twisting, curling handles." ~ from the Royal Albert History page

I was just a girl when Mom started her china dinnerware. Our parents liked nice things. And that included Mom's desire for a nice china set to use for company and special family events. If you were going to invite a family over for dinner, you needed extra plates, so they might as well be nice ones.

Anyone who knows my mom will know that she loves all things roses, which is probably why her beautiful, romantic Old Country Roses china has enjoyed pride of place in her china cabinet for well over fifty years. The story goes that it was my dad who actually chose the pattern when they first went to look after they were married. Like Mom, he liked roses, red ones in particular. I can see why he was attracted to these clusters of roses in velvety deep red, soft pink, and warm yellow. Mom was fine with his choice, and over time, they collected twelve place settings, along with all the serving dishes, teapot, coffee pot, cream and sugar, etc.

This beautiful set was central to many family celebrations. Old Country Roses was as much a part of our family's history as it was Royal Albert's. Over the decades, it graced every company dinner, holidays like Christmas and Easter, as well as many other special occasions. And, we had lots of company. Mom was a gracious and welcoming hostess. I think she got that from her own dad, who was always up for inviting people home for Sunday Dinner, or inviting the traveling salesman to stop for the night and have a meal.

People often stopped at our house for a quick visit and a cup of coffee on their way home from shopping and getting the mail in town. We were on the 'flight' path, as it were. And, we all loved it when we saw a car slowing on the corner and turning into our driveway. We'd put the kettle on and start bringing out the cups, looking in the containers for a cookie or piece of cake to serve with it.

* * *

Everyone was excited about getting company. Mom, the family social convener, would decide it was time to host Uncle John and Aunt Ruth and their family one Sunday. Phone calls were made, a date agreed upon, and then Mom got into her 'getting ready for company' mode. Which included searching every recipe book in the house for possible dishes to serve, which might be her family favourite fried chicken recipe, mashed potatoes, fresh vegetables from the garden, cabbage rolls, homemade pickles, salads, both tossed and jellied, and then deciding what dessert would be served at the end: pineapple dessert, cherry delight, angel food cake with strawberries, or homemade pies and ice cream.

I loved the smells that would emanate from the kitchen, even a couple of days before as food was prepared. I especially remember the smell of the peeled cucumbers slipping into the not-quite-set lime jello for the sour cream jello salad. Don't forget this was the 1960's. Everyone used jello as salad.

The morning of the big day, Mom would begin her preparations. The girls were set to peeling potatoes and getting the creamy tossed salad ingredients together. Setting the table became our job as we got older. That really was my favourite task. Mom would give us free rein to decide which tablecloth to use--lace or linen. We'd peer into the silverware box and decide which silverware pattern to use (Mom had two sets, both wedding gifts). We'd choose which drinking glasses to set out for water, tomato juice, or pineapple juice mixed with Canada Dry ginger ale. We also liked to decorate each place setting with the big white dinner napkins folded using the fancy patterns found in the Ladies Home Journal. Although we'd set out candles at Christmas, generally we didn't put centrepieces of flowers on the table. Once the food was placed in the middle of the table to be passed around, there was no room for flowers.

When the meal was done, people would relax and sit back, as Mom and her girls would get the big pot of tea ready, cups and saucers clinking as they were distributed, and then dessert passed around. I'd be so stuffed from eating way too much but sitting around and listening to the stories the adults shared were some of the best times. These stories invariably ended in laughter and the telling of the next story, and the next...

* * *

There is so much wrapped up in a few family tea cups and an Old Country Roses dinner set. They are not just a collection of material possessions. They hold memories that we cherish and that's what we treasure. As my sister Kathy says, "For (us) now, Mom's china set has become a kind of symbol, a metaphor of sorts, for a well-lived life, served up with lots of love and laughter and celebration." As Mom passes along these treasured items, it is my hope and desire that we will carry on this tradition of sharing that love, laughter, and celebration ... around a table set with pretty tea cups and fine china.  

And, so we come to the end. A few things have been mulled and thought out for me. I so appreciate you staying the course through my ramblings -- we must have had a whole pot of tea by now.

* * *

Happy Mother's Day!
Mom, I love you!

With love and hugs to everyone,

Here are two links with some interesting historical information
about Royal Albert and the Old Country Roses china pattern.
 Royal Albert History | Royal


  1. Thank you, Brenda, for this precious stroll down our shared memory lane! It's a gift you have to be able to revive these youthful memories and write so evocatively about them. It helps me appreciate the goodness and blessing of a being part of a close-knit and loving family. Happy Mother's Day!

  2. Brenda,

    I love this post. I am a tea lover and a lover of tea cups, tea pots, and china. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories of growing up with these Old Country Roses dishes being such an important part! I hope that my children have these kinds of sweet memories of our hosting friends and family at our home!

  3. That was lovely. I hope that your mother really enjoyed reading it. I especially love the varying memories from your sisters and brother...each one focusing on a different sense...sight, sound, taste, texture... What sweet memories you have and a beautiful mother who passed on her treasures to the daughter who is “the tea lady.”

  4. Memories and Mothers, ringed around your treasured around, your Old Country Rose.
    We have the pleasure to meet your family and hear about your relationships.
    Loved the story of Uncle John and Aunt Ruth. The preparation and each one's job. And the delight of a wonderful meal. Ending with the finale of the tea cups and fine china.
    Happy Mother's Day to your mom for giving you such treasured memories!

  5. What a beautiful post about my china cups and saucers. So many memories, makes me feel homesick now for our life so many years ago. This is a beautiful Mother's Day gift for me today !!! Thank you so much. What a beautiful painting, Kathy. A wonderful job, thank you!! LOVE YOU SOOOO MUCH!! Mom

  6. This is one of your loveliest posts, Brenda. You have set the picture so beautifully, and it is easy to imagine your dear mother's involvement in her tea parties. I felt sad when I read about the loss of the special box, but I'm glad she has so many lovely replacements.

  7. Loved this, Brenda! I smiled at the part about the joy of being the one to set the table - that is still my most favourite part of getting ready for company! What a beautiful tribute to Mom’s hospitality over the years. Kathy, the painting is absolutely lovely - may need a print if that! ��And Happy Mother’s Day to Mom! Thank you for passing on to your daughters a love for beautiful entertaining!

  8. I am fascinated by this post. I grew up in a rather poor home, but Mom had her set of cherished and fancy tea cups.I now have many of them in my possession.I have a set of Old Country Roses,picked and for the most part, bought by my late husband. Thanks for sharing your memories, they triggered. a few of my own.

  9. I love your mother's name - Evelyn - it is my first born daughter's name.

    I also love Old Country Roses pattern - your mom's is lovely! Your sister's painting is great- what a special treasure that is!

    Hope you continue to have many happy memories.

  10. I also loved this post so much! That pattern is soooooo beautiful! I may have to see about getting me some! My grandma was the collector of teacups in my family, although I don't recall her having any teapots. She used to set her pretty teacups on top of an open shelf/entryway into her kitchen. They sat there as far back as I can remember...only occasionally actually being used. She sometimes would slip a stamp or two, a coin or maybe a paperclip into one or the other....but usually they were only for display it seems. She had other fine china sets she used for company and big family get togethers. I really enjoy reading all your posts so much and LOVED your Christmas magazine...I hope you are working on something along those lines with your stories as I would be first in line to also purchase that!

  11. What a beautiful post! The only china that I've inherited from my mom is jadeite dishes that used to belong to her mom (my grandmother).

    I'm the "Tea Lady" in the family and started collecting pretty china teapots and teacups when I moved out. A few years ago, my parents gave me the OCR tea set. Your post has inspired me to use it for a tea party soon!

  12. So much to love about this post...that darling photo of you in your highchair with the teacup...precious...the gorgeous photos of these lovely teacups, your sisters fantastic rendition of the teapot, cup and saucer (very talented sis!) and the fun memories of your mom. Have a blessed week ahead!

  13. What a lovely post, Brenda, full of memories that had me nodding my head with the similarities to my own childhood home. My mom's pattern was the Royal Albert "Queen's Messenger." It came out for Sunday dinners, and whenever company showed up. Even the jello salad is familiar! I think it's time for a tea party! Thank you for sharing these thoughts with us.

  14. Beautiful post Brenda - such lovely memories and wonderful thoughts for Mother's Day. Thank you for sharing. The pattern on those teacups are beautiful as well as your sister's painting. Take care and thanks again for such a great post. Hugs!

  15. What a lovely post, Brenda! Thank you for inviting me for "tea" and a bit of family history. Yes, your mom is passing down some treasures, not the least of which is her gift of hospitality!

  16. What a beautiful post. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and could almost imagine sitting around the table with you. I think Kathy did a wonderful painting.

  17. Brenda, an absolutely beautiful post. One that tugs at my heart. How beautiful for you to receive your mom's lovely tea pot and cups, I know they will be a treasure to you always. The pattern is one I have always admired. I too, am a collector of tea cups and saucers ~ one more thing you and I seem to have in common.

    Many thanks Brenda, for this beautifully written post. You always add much to my day!

  18. Such beautiful tea cups! My girls were sipped from china cups for the first time at a little tea party. They took it very seriously. <3

  19. Thank you for another lovely post, Brenda. I was right there with you, setting the table and getting ready for Uncle and Aunt's arrival. It brought back memories of sitting at table after dinner and listening to the adults tell stories. You can't replace memories like that. I keep a few unmatched teacups on a shelf in my kitchen, handed down from my Grandmas, my mom, even my husband's grandma. The style of each one gives a little glimpse into who each of these women are/were. And they are cherished for just that reason.


To My Beautiful Readers,

Some people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same. ~ Franz Peter Schubert

Thank you so much for leaving your 'footprint' here in my comment box. I do appreciate you taking a moment to share your thoughts today.

Brenda xo