This memory takes me well back to our very first apartment on 290 West 12th Street in NYC.
I don’t recall my exact age, but I believe it was somewhere around 11. For the most part, our very protective mom didn’t let me out of her sight for very long at all. However, on occasion, she would send me to the bakery to pick up a freshly baked loaf of Italian bread or to the A&P to pick up one or two small grocery items.
Now, to be honest… I didn’t have the best track record in accomplishing these rather simple tasks. There was the time I arrived back at our apartment building, proudly holding the above-mentioned loaf of fresh Italian bread, only to drop it out of the bag onto the front steps of the building. I then proceeded to trip over our hot, fresh Italian bread and crush it under me. That was a hard one to explain. Then there was the time I was sent for a dozen eggs, and, forgetting to check the eggs in the carton, I arrived home with seven eggs. Oh, and that container of milk I was supposed to buy…Don’t you think Milk containers should look vastly different from heavy cream containers? I sure do. It’s inexcusable. Dad loved Cocoa Puffs, so I was sent to pick up a box of Cocoa Puffs. Easy right? Not so much. Cocoa Puffs… Cocoa Krispies… Cocoa Krispies… Cocoa Puffs. Hell, they were both Cocoa, right? No big deal? Not to my dad. I can still hear him stating, to no one in particular, as he shook his head looking with disdain at the Cocoa Krispies I had purchased:” WHAT THE HELL IS A COCOA KRISPY? “
Those are just a few examples, but they kind of set the stage well. No one could accuse me of being a very good grocery shopper.
It’s also probably important to restate something I have mentioned quite a few times. Money was very tight in our family there was little room for carelessly handling it. I want to be certain that you don’t draw the conclusion that mom or dad were being overly harsh when these kinds of things happened. Every penny, literally counted.
Which brings us to the tea bags.
Seemed like a reasonably easy assignment. Our Uncle Vincent, Moms Brother, was stopping by for lunch. He was a tea lover ( perhaps the only one in the family, everyone else were coffee drinkers). As mom and dad were not tea drinkers and Robert and I were too young to care, we had no tea bags in the apartment for Uncle Vincent. Mom gives me this look that basically says, “Ok….. I’m going to send you to the store for one easy thing…. don’t mess it up”.
She tells me at least four times all she needs is one small box of tea bags. She asks me if I understand if I have any questions. I enthusiastically nod “yes”… I understand ….. no problem”.
Sitting directly behind mom as she gives me the instructions, looking like an evil little elf, is my little brother Robert. He also has a look on his face. But, his eyes are already laughing and the look says. .. ..” this doofus is going to mess it up!” I shot him a look that responded; “ cut it out!” And he gives me one back of mocking glee. Evil little elf.
Off I go to the store, confident that this is going to go well and Robert will have to swallow that look.
I find the place where the tea is stocked, pick up the smallest box, as per mom’s frugal instructions, pay the cashier with the money mom gave me and I stride confidently home. I ascend the three flights of stairs, knock on the apartment door and walk boldly in as mom opens the door for me.
She looks at the brown paper bag holding my purchase and asks;
“Any problems? “
“No !” I say smiling a confident smile.
The evil elf is still behind mom…. that damned look still on his face.
I hand Mom the bag and stand there proudly as she opens it.
I knew right away something was amiss.
A dark look comes over moms face, the eyebrows are now quite furrowed.
“ WHAT’S THIS??! “ she exclaims.
I’m thinking to myself; “it’s freakin’ tea…. just like you asked?”
The elf is already starting to go into convulsions on the floor behind Mom.
“I SAID TEA BAGS!!!!! Five times I said TEA BAGS!!!! This is loose tea!!!! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITH LOOSE TEA??”
I am staring back at her with the wide-eyed doofus look thinking… “I don’t know… put it in a bag?”
Mom then proceeds to go into a rant in Italian, thankfully which I didn’t understand, though I vaguely remember hearing “stupido” and “muto” a couple of times. She tosses the box of tea in the air and walks down the hall, continuing her rant…. to no one in particular now.
…… and there, on the sofa, rolled up in convulsions of hysterical laughter, was the evil elf.
And… I’m thinking to myself… tea is tea, no?