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Veronica Hogle: Quest for a cup of tea quite a culture shock

It was a foggy, frosty morning in December 1965, when a friend drove me to Shannon Airport in Ireland, where I boarded a TWA plane for my maiden voyage to America. Maurice, a Canadian man I met in France, sent me a one-way ticket and said he’d meet me at the airport in Houston. The dressmaker made me a beautiful primrose-colored wool suit. My hair was arranged in a beehive and my black stiletto shoes had toes so pointy, they were designed for women with only three toes.

The plane had roomy seats. Cocktails were available during the entire flight and all the food and beverages were compliments of TWA. The only thing that wasn’t offered was a nice cup of tea. The captain’s voice came on and off with announcements.

“If you look out your windows, you’ll see the Statue of Liberty,” he said. When I looked down and saw all the blinking lights, the skyscrapers and the Hudson River, a surge of joy raced through me. I followed the crowd and directions. Soon I was on a smaller plane headed for Texas. We were served dinner and wine, but still no tea. I’ll get some when I arrive in Houston, I consoled myself.

When I retrieved my suitcase, I scanned the crowd searching for Maurice, but could not find him. Then out of nowhere, a clean-shaven man with a crew-cut came smiling toward me. When I looked into his sea-blue eyes, I recognized the man who’d sent the ticket.

“Maurice! The last time I saw you, you’d a beard and reddish-blond hair in a pony tail!” I said, disappointed in his looks, especially his weak chin.

“Because the war in Nam is escalating, I’d like to join the Army,” he said.

He drove to a restaurant where waitresses, wearing short shorts, skated around cars taking orders and serving food on trays that clipped onto the car door.

“What do you want to drink?” one asked.

“Tea,” I said, wondering where Nam was.

“We only serve sodas.”

When we arrived at the home of Maurice’s mother, Alison, we entered through the garage. I caught sight of myself in a mirror. After traveling 16 hours, my beehive hairstyle had collapsed and looked like a sloppy crow’s nest. My wool suit was turning back into a lamb, and my makeup had rolled down my face onto my collar from the heat and humidity. Gone was the girl who left Ireland looking crisp and stylish.

“You look just like your photograph, dear,” Alison kindly said. “Would you like some tea?”

By now, I was gasping for a cup of tea. My heart beat as fast as an African drum in anticipation. I went to get my handbag. When I returned, there were two tall glasses filled with amber-colored liquid. A small, square thing hung by a string on the rim of each glass. She removed them, and went to the refrigerator and got ice cubes. She put them in the glasses and stirred them around. She moved a bowl toward me.

“Sugar?” she said. I was so shocked, I wrote home that night.

“Mom, to make tea, we know the water has to be at a rolling boil. Then we swish some of it around to warm the pot. We spoon in blended imported tea leaves and pour the boiling water over them and let them steep under a cozy.

“They don’t do that in America. They ruin the tea. They put ice in it. I wonder if I’ll ever have a nice cup of tea again?”