Tea Cart: My Stuff & Stories May 16

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No more tea sets in my home, but the cart continues to serve, holding a birthday bouquet from my sister

This antique tea cart puts me solidly in the LOL category. I don’t mean Laugh Out Loud or Lots Of Love, but Little Old Lady. It’s the kind of thing you find in Little Old Ladies’ homes. Jan, the friend who gave me the tea cart, is approaching the age of ninety. She has expanded on the LOL acronym by adopting a kind of alter ego she has named Lollie. Lollie has invaded Jan’s body, and they’re not on particularly good terms. Jan wants to go to an event, but Lollie insists on staying home. Jan wants to get a list of things done in a day, but Lollie lingers in an easy chair, imprisoned by aches and pains.

I don’t use the “old” of LOL in a pejorative sense. Jan refers to this time of life as s-aging. Wikipedia tells me that the term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert Neil Butler to describe discrimination against older people. But, wrote historian Georges Minois, our ambiguity about old age has “been with us since the stage of primitive society.” Old age, he continued, has been seen as “both the source of wisdom and of infirmity, experience and decrepitude, of prestige and suffering.” Thus we hide our ambivalence with euphemisms such as “elderly” and “senior citizen.” Never “old.”

Jan gave me her deceased mother’s tea cart decades ago when she moved to England. It was a common enough furnishing for that generation of women who had a specific approach to gracious hospitality and entertaining. That’s why I suspect you’d be hard pressed to find a tea cart in the home of anyone under sixty.

Forty years ago, our weekly newspaper still had what we called “country correspondents,” women who reported the social events in their rural neighborhoods. John and I happened to own numerous, dainty tea cups, inherited from both sides of our families, so we hosted the correspondents for tea at our home, spotlighting the cart. That kind of journalism has disappeared, and I’ve sold and/or given away all my tea sets. Still, I enjoy the cart. I roll it around when I’m dusting under and behind it. It squeaks and groans as it moves. Apparently it has its own Lollie.

(To celebrate my 75th birthday this month, I’m posting daily stories about the stuff I’ve acquired over a lifetime and can’t let go of. I invite you to consider the stories that make you treasure your own stuff—maybe even share them.)

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