Mary Dittmar and E.V. Gauger’s Glouchester Spode Tea Cup and Saucer
I was sorting through a century’s worth of family papers and photographs recently when I came across a letter written in a very neat cursive. I’m in the middle of a divorce after a thirty-year marriage, so all sorts of things are turning up. My hands reached blindly for a pair of reading glasses so I could at least figure out who the writer was. The envelope was an odd size. European, I would say. My hand rested on my weakest glasses missing the left lens and the right arm. The left was held in place by a shiny red paperclip, giving them the look of a monocle. I squinted at the envelope: the letter was dated June of 1981 and was addressed to me at my favorite apartment in Seattle—I immediately smiled and felt the tiny rain fluttering down among the pink apple blossoms that lined all the streets at that time. My favorite address: 1710 E. Denney Way on Capitol Hill. I lived in a little stucco palace with a girlfriend, and we were surrounded by doting gay men who adored us and at least two cats per apartment, plus our tiny dog, Roo. The word AIDS had not yet been coined, and as far as I knew, there were only two Starbucks in the whole wide world. I was a barista at their competitor, a place called The B & O Espresso that taught me how to brew coffee so strong it gave me welts on my face. We served everything on mismatched plates that came from the Hadassah shop around the corner, and we mixed fresh whipped cream in metal bowls the size of hot tubs, all of which we got to lick if we so chose. They also taught me how to brew loose tea in a pot and serve it to a table on a silver or decorative tray, complete with an antique set of mismatched cups and saucers. This was rare, however, because this was Seattle and the hard-hitting culture of coffee was on the rise.
My mornings were spent studying modern dance with a master teacher who still performs and teaches to this day. I think if I could regain a few days in my youth I would choose a morning from that time when I was suddenly able to dance a combination that included a spin with five revolutions. Maybe on another day I would have my daughter as an infant again, knowing full well how she would be in thirteen years. I’d just like to get a good look at her fleeting baby self again to smell her up and say hello. And maybe on another day I’d be returned to my college in Oxford by my tutor after a day far afield only to meet up with a guest clown out of costume who came to college on her way to Edinburgh. My clown made me laugh so hard I literally felt as though I had done 1000 yogic salutations to the sun the next day. That Oxford year I lived in the very first building designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren. I took it as a sign that my grandfather was checking in with me even though he had passed away the decade before. Across the street was Wren’s Sheldonian Theatre that was originally intended to be “built greater than the Theatre of Marcellus at Rome” but had to be made smaller due to a lack of funds. Now it seems beautifully small. It’s Intimate and is used for ceremonies and commencement. Wren was building in Oxford long before the great fire of London in 1666. After the city burned Wren went down the river and was given license to rebuild as grand a city as any on the continent.
But back to my letter. It came from E.V. Gauger: My father’s father who lived in Washington DC in 1981. It was three pages long. Really? I thought, snooping around for better glasses. I had no recollection of this letter. Earl Victor Gauger was not a man you would ever get the warm and fuzzies from. He was what you would call astringent. It turns out that I had sent E.V. a Father’s Day card because I had news to share with him: I had hatched this idea that I was going to move to Paris and become an ex-pat indefinitely. I didn’t tell him that I was going to take a job dancing in a night club to earn my traveling money, but that was ok. Thinking back on it now I was scared witless but determined. What was happening to my country? We had elected Ronald Reagan and five weeks later, John Lennon was assassinated in New York City. Arts organizations folded up like beach umbrellas in September and suddenly every mother’s son was being groomed for phantom wars to come. As far as I could tell, Chicken Little was right.
“You are a dear to have sent me a Father’s Day card!” My grandfather’s letter starts. “And what good news that you are planning to travel to Paris, my old stomping ground, though I have to say that my city of preference now in Vienna due to the Operas put up there…” Who was this guy? I was asking myself almost forty years later. It was almost as if he wrote the letter conspiring with the Universe for me to find it at a much later date when I was again in the depths of despair. My own marriage had collapsed, I’d lost my job, I’d been served divorce papers, and now I was packing up my books. Every library is like the beach after high tide—full of mementos and keepsakes from the time spent in our hands. Each book a journey. I almost couldn’t bear it until I found the letter. Mary, his third wife, the love of his life, was out and about, while he sat down with a cup of tea to write to me. How he adored Mary. You’d have thought they were newlyweds. I sniveled, wiping my nose on my sleeve. Is it possible to adore someone if you have been married three times? Apparently yes. E.V. sipped tea as he wrote, describing what I would call perfect contentment, right down to the little blue and white cups from England. They had bought the complete set of Spode dishes together. It had been a sensible splurge: a pattern they both agreed upon, and a set that was fired at a temperature so hot they became chip resistant. “A sound investment for their longevity” I can almost hear him say, balancing a full cup on a saucer on the right square angle of his bent knee, his ankle resting on top of his other knee. A geometric pattern of sitting I’ve often seen in both my brothers and father.
Wow. Fancy, I thought. I couldn’t imagine having plates that cost more than a dollar each. I should have known they would be mine someday. E.V. was busy being retired from designing buildings. He’d turned his attention to the sculpture for an upcoming show and still referred to Mary as his “Bride” though by then they had been married for over twenty years. The big news that week as she had had to give up salty foods to keep her blood pressure down, so, by god, he was going to give them up too! At this very moment, as he was writing, MARY had gone to the supermarket to trade in her salted butter for unsalted butter. Can you imagine?” Well, that sounded just terrible to me. Why even bother with butter if there’s no salt in it? Because my friends, that is love. That is love. That is love. That is love. They had it all. They had built their house for two in Arlington, VA, and had had a succession of Airedale Terriers all named Sarah (with an H, of course). Big glorious elegant terriers to bounce through that yard and garden planted with dahlias. If ever I have a male Airedale, who sits elegantly, paws crossed, I swear I will call him Darcy after that elusive catch in Jane Austin’s Pride & Prejudice. That third-marriage, domestic portrait revealed to me that love is always possible. But we all know love takes its goddamn time when we announce that we are ready. But am I ready? Or am I just greedy to get laid? My former spouse changed the locks on our house, so I packed up the teapot and some of the cups and moved them to where I live now. I brew whole pots of tea to share with friends. I drink it hot. I’ll take it cold. I’ll even drink it straight from the spout to empty it if no one is looking. It reminds me that life is mysterious. I unexpectedly ended up with E.V. and Mary’s china. Apparently it’s a New England thing to pass it on to your granddaughter. Neither he nor I knew this because we both are from Iowa. It is a huge collection so this month Tea is the Way is happy to offer one of my Grandfather and Mary’s Glouchester Spode Tea Cups that they bought together when they fell crazy in love as they were reaching retirement age. So tell us your story. Did you find true love in a second or third marriage? Do you hope for another? Or do you just need the courage to get out of a toxic relationship? It’s all good. What has given you courage?