TEA AND SHORTBREAD COOKIES

It was raining cats and dogs as Millie sat sipping her coffee while watching her favorite morning talk show. John, her husband of fifty-two years, had passed six months ago, leaving a gaping hole in her heart. As she gently placed her chipped pink flowered cup on the mix-matched saucer, her eyes darted toward the hallway leading to the dining room.

She yearned to hear John’s footsteps, but the silence that clung to the walls only deepened the pain her heart was feeling.  As Millie slowly exhaled, two tears escaped from her eyes lingering on her cheeks before plunging down to her chin. It was at that moment she prayed a simple prayer, ” Dear Lord, show me the way, and I will follow.”

Millie dabbed her eyes then tidied up the kitchen. She carefully washed and dried her teacup and saucer then noticed the rain had stopped. As she looked out the kitchen window, Millie’s heart skipped a beat as the sun’s rays caught the green leaves on the old Oaktree. Suddenly a passing gray cloud burst open bringing raindrops down one after another.

Millie started to smile as she looked for the angle of the sun, then like a detective walked through the rooms searching.  She stopped in the living room by the window that looked out over the side yard, where the Wisteria climbed the edges of the gazebo.  Above the slate roof in all of its glory, was a brilliant rainbow. Millie stood in silence, taking in every inch of the arc.  As she gazed, she thought of John and the home they had shared for so many years– a house that now felt lonely and empty. It was then that Millie knew what she had to do.

The next morning, she made two phone calls, one to a local realtor, and one to the Hummingbird Senior Living Community. Her heart was heavy, but she knew it was time to move on.  The next day, Mrs. Stenlake drove up to the driveway, leading to Millie’s house with paperwork to sign. The following day, Millie toured Hummingbird, and fell in love with a two bedroom apartment and once again, signed paperwork that would change her life.

Two months later, Millie moved out of her house and into her new home. Her apartment was cozy with cream walls, adorned with pictures of John, familiar furniture, and a corner cabinet holding two cups and two saucers.

After she settled in, Millie went to the dining room to have her first meal. As she walked into the hall, she noticed all but one table were filled with chatting men and women, waiting for their dinner to be served. Millie headed over to a round table with white daisies in a clear hourglass-shaped vase. A small brown-haired woman looked up, smiled, and invited her to sit down and join her.

” Hello, my name is Millie.”  “Hi, I’m Carmela.”   Millie smiled, and the two women shared a getting to know you conversation that lasted well after the table was cleared, and the last drop of coffee was drunk.  Both women talked about their late husbands, reminiscing about better times before their lives changed. After an echo of it was nice meeting you, the two headed off in different directions.

As Millie sat in her apartment, a sadness washed over her as she thought back to a happier time. She knew she made the right decision to sell her home and move into an environment that would meet her needs, however, missing John was overwhelming. Just when the tears started finding their way out, Millie’s phone rang. It was Camela calling to thank her for sharing dinner.  Hearing the sadness in Millie’s voice, Carmela invited her for a cup of hot tea. At first, Millie made an excuse, but Carmela, persistent, finally persuaded the lonely woman to come.

Millie washed her face, walked through the room, stopped and glanced at John’s picture, then turned as a tear welled up. She closed the door behind her and walked down the hallway to the elevator, waited for the door to open, walked in, and pushed the button for the first floor.  Thoughts crept into Millie’s head as she walked down the hallway. Maybe it was too soon to be sharing her feelings.

 She knocked, then smiled as the small Italian woman dressed in a tan and brown outfit complete with a charming necklace, bracelet, and earrings welcomed her in with a hug and, ” I am so happy to see you!”  Carmela, with her broken English and Millie with her broken heart, had a lot in common.

Carmela walked to her small kitchen and poured boiling water over the bobbing teabags then carried the cups and saucers to the dining room table. Millie gazed at her teacup and could not believe her eyes. Right in front of her was a beautiful white bone china cup with small red roses beautifully painted on both sides of the cup with a baby redbud on the handle. The saucer had the same intricate roses. As Carmela walked in the room with a plate of shortbread cookies, Millie saw it… Right on the saucer edge was a little tiny chip. She smiled as she looked at Carmela dipping her teabag up and down, then added a little sugar with a splash of milk. She smiled as she noticed that Carmela’s cup and saucer were mixed- matched too.

The two sat and talked about their lives. Carmela told Millie about her life in Italy as a child and her family’s journey to America; their sponsors, the hardships they faced, the tears they shed, and how hard they worked. Millie listened as Carmela continued telling her story about her husband who died, leaving her to raise three young children alone. Millie saw the love in Carmela’s eyes as she told her story.

Then Millie told her story about her life with John. How they wanted to have a family, but it was not to be. How they started out with very little but worked hard to build a business. A business where their employees became family. Millie told Carmela about a winter’s night when two couples came to dinner. The teacups, and the message that each cup held. Then with tears clouding her eyes, she shared about the night John so humble and loving, passed. Carmela listened, with tears streaming down her face thinking about the loss of her own husband, remembering the pain and fear.

She reached over and took Millie’s hand in hers.

Speaking softly, Carmela told Millie that life would get better with time. As they sipped their tea and ate their cookies, Carmela shared memories of a happier time with the man she loved. Millie smiled and even laughed at some of the funny things Carmela’s children did as they were growing up. Then Carmela told Millie the importance of finding something to be happy about each day. She said, ” Millie, the little things that make us happy heal our broken hearts. Happiness leads to joy.”

Carmela thought for a moment, then said, ” I believe you were supposed to move to Hummingbird. And I believe we were supposed to meet.  Millie listened, and although her heart was broken, felt a little better.

The two made plans to meet for breakfast the next day. Millie hugged Carmela before leaving, then walked back to her room. Carmela gently washed the teacups and saucers, thinking about the woman who had found her way to Hummingbird and smiled.

Millie said her nightly prayer, then looked up to heaven, and told John about Carmela and the tea they shared in the chipped and mixed- matched cups and saucers. She promised him that she would take one day at a time. Millie threw John a goodnight butterfly kiss then turned off the light. Little did she know, that John looking down from heaven, blew a kiss back down to her. Millie slept well that night – maybe it was from the unpacking and settling in, or perhaps it was from sharing a cup of tea and the words of wisdom from a sweet senior lady, named Carmela.

 Millie and Carmela continued to meet for tea and stories, encouraged each other to paint, joined a book club, and even tried out for the Hummingbird Talent Show.  Millie had found her joy and Carmela had found a lifetime friend.

This is not the end of the story… The Teacup series will continue with Millie and Carmela reaching out to help others; caring, listening, and sharing life-changing stories while enjoying hot tea served in chipped and mixed- matched teacups, and nibbling on delicious shortbread cookies.