SOUTHERN LADIES, RUSSIAN STYLE: HOW TO MAKE REAL RUSSIAN TEA

There’s all different sorts of ladies, I guess, but for me (me being Mrs. Hate), as a little girl in the 1960s, a Southern lady in a small town would conjure up this image: playing Bridge or Canasta on Saturday afternoons while eating chicken salad and tomato aspic, with pound cake and boiled custard for dessert.

And to drink?? Russian tea was always de rigueur…I could promise you on a stack of Baptist Bibles that no Russian had ever, ever lived in my small town, but Russian tea was considered quite lady-like on Saturday afternoons.

For card playing Saturdays, you didn’t dress up quite like going to church on Sundays, but you dressed a little more fancily than you would if you were just around the house by yourself. And I daresay that the cards themselves were a little more fancy than the cards one played with for everyday play.

And I should know all this, because my grandmother taught me how to play Canasta when I was just a wee awkward little girl six years old, and I watched her make all the preparations for her Saturday afternoon Canasta games, games that were rotated through the little circle of friends’ homes…of course!! One of those unspoken rules that just simmer and birth over the years, rules yielding the blessed safety and sanctity of routine, with “taking turns hosting” being the first rule.

Canasta and Bridge days were certainly a carefully proscribed affair, with allowances made for each individual’s cooking specialty and allowances made for the idiosyncrasies of the players. Examples as follows:  “you know Martha always has to sit in that chair” or “you know Julia has to talk ten minutes about her grandchildren before we can even get started” or “you know if Lois doesn’t get a wild card in any of her hands she’ll pout ‘til next time”…all harmless little comments for this little set of friends, no viciousness or spite regarding looks or husbands or monetary status. I should know, because these women were of a different time and character. Were they saints? Not necessarily, but they just “knew” that you just “knew how to act”. So hard to explain this…a combination of innocence, character, and too much hard work keeping house and going to church and circle meetings to have time to be vicious and catty.

Granny was a very neat, very thorough scratch cook with a delicate touch; no fear, there will be plenty of Granny stories to come. For this story, however, the focus is her Russian tea, which was even served in the sweltering hot days of July and August. Imagine 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon in July with the temperature pushing 100 degrees and saying “why yes, Mildred (Granny’s fantastic, plain-jane name) I’d LOVE some Russian tea”.

There was a sad time in the 1970s and 1980s when Russian tea was some concoction with a base of instant Tang powdered orange drink, or was it Tang powdered instant orange drink, or Tang instant orange powdered drink, or…so interchangeable with this Tang stuff. But hey, Tang had its place…astronauts and all that. Fun Fact:  the creator of Tang, William A. Mitchell, also invented Pop Rocks, Cool Whip, a form of instant-set Jell-O, and other convenience foods (thanks to Wikipedia reference). And Cool Whip? Oh my Lord in Heaven…oh Lord have mercy…NO COOL WHIP!! ONLY LIGHTLY WHIPPED AND SUGARED HEAVY CREAM!! (but you know, there’s something about cherry Jell-O and Cool Whip…)

However, Granny’s Russian tea was as follows:

  •  1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 16 cups cold water
  • 12 tea bags
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar

Bring to a boil cloves, cinnamon, and water.

Remove from heat and add tea bags.

Let sit for 5 minutes; remove bags and cloves and cinnamon.

Add orange juice, lemon juice, (and surely you know the juices need to come from fresh oranges and lemons…no frozen or bottled stuff) and sugar and stir well.

Strain for extra fineness and serve hot.

 

I haven’t had Russian tea in years, and I mean YEARS, but digging for that recipe and remembering Granny and her organized, efficient, phlegmatic little small-town Southern self makes me want to mix up a batch right now…and it’s going to be 82 degrees today. Not bad Russian tea weather, but I long for July and August when it’s a smothering and humid 100 degrees and I will dress up in a neat shirtwaist dress with hose and small pumps and a string of pearls and a circle pin and drink scalding-hot Russian tea. Divine.

The day came when my grandmother was 93 and lonely (but hung on to life until 6 weeks short of 100), and my mother said to her “why don’t you call up some friends and play cards?” to which my grandmother oh so truthfully replied “they’re all dead” as she stared out the crank-out windows on her little back porch. Time passed, the living room that had hosted so many Saturday afternoon Canasta games was silent, and the card-players were just ghosts lingering only in our small-town memories, except for Granny…who had both the blessing and the curse of living beyond her span.



Mary Cassatt

“Five O’Clock Tea”

 

HATE POINT:  obviously, Tang-based Russian tea, complete with instant tea powder

 

LOVE POINT:  Granny’s patience with me and enjoyment in teaching a lonely little six-year old girl how to play a grownups’ card game

 


A BURNING ALZHEIMER’S QUESTION: CORNELIA, DO YOU THINK THIS IS A GOOD TIME FOR MY BATH?

my friend, if you’re reading this, it’s

Cornelia

writing about our fun times together

when you were a patent in the hospital

do you remember how we talked and laughed?

do you remember telling me about your boys and their personalities

and how sweet their wives and your grandchildren are?

do you remember talking about men and women

and saying

“honey chile, that’s just how men are”?

do you remember telling me about the cake that your mother said was

“a sufficient cake”?

I remember all those times, even if you don’t…

because that bad Alzheimer’s had to go and upset your brain’s wiring

Cornelia will always be the friend you thought she was…

a little thing like being called by a different name didn’t really matter

as long as we were having a good time together

*****

The patient, Mrs. X, was the quintessential old-fashioned Southern lady. She was soft-voiced, humble, comfortable and gracious around presidents and their subordinates and captains of industry—and yes, she truly was around them—as well as those without a penny to their name. Though I could tell by our conversations she was an excellent cook, Mrs X would just laugh that sweet laugh and say “oh, it’s just plain old cooking like I grew up with”, but such is the self-deprecation of one who knows that there is no need to “put on airs”. She had the elusive talent of being both self-assured and modest, a personality combination we would do well to emulate.

To the patient, I was “Cornelia”. At the beginning of her hospital stay, Mrs. X called me by my Christian name; I might have had to remind the patient of my name every morning, but that was no problem. One day, however, I walked in and was dubbed “Cornelia” by the patient, and from that moment on, Mrs. X and “Cornelia” shared many confidences. One of the most poignant moments I experienced with Mrs. X was when Mrs. X was unsure about whether it was a good idea to have the CNA give her her bath before therapy. I saw the hesitation and confusion on the patient’s face, the CNA was standing there with soaps and towels and basins, and then Mrs. X’s voice dropped a little and she whispered “Cornelia, what do you think? Do you think this is a good time for my bath?” So “Cornelia” said “well, yes, I think it would be a fine time.”

What went through my mind during this interchange? How unsure, yet trusting, Mrs. X was? How hard it is to witness a human’s decline, whether it be mental or physical? How easily those without strong minds and strong bodies could be taken advantage of in all sorts of ways by those with evil intentions? Of course—all these thoughts and more.

I know that we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but allowing this patient to exist in these in-the-moment safe bubbles of idly talking and laughing and reminiscing with the one she thought was her childhood friend “Cornelia” seemed to be the answer to the problem of “how to give an Alzheimer’s patient a little respect and joy on just an ordinary day”.


HOW AN 84 YEAR-OLD AUSSIE CHICK HAD A HECK OF A GOOD TIME BEING A HOSPITAL PATIENT

if she were still alive, would she like being called

Aussie chick?

I’m guessing she would…

young-at-heart doesn’t even begin to describe her

***

she was another one of those repeat patients

maybe even a three-peat

frail in body, wild in spirit

that accent so rich and so exotic

to those of us with the country drawl

***

some moments with patients are almost

crystallized in time

her crystal moment was the time we both realized

that we knew some of the same people from her hometown

up the road

***

her wild spirit sensed it might be an interesting conversation

she drew those bony knees up to her bony chest and said

“oh goody, let’s talk!!”

***

we were both sitting on her bed facing each other

and as I looked into those pale little snapping blue eyes

and watched that mouth with its limited number of teeth

curl excitedly into a grin at the prospect of what she termed

“girl talk”

I told her

“it’s just like a slumber party when you’re a teenager!!”

***

we forgot the thirty-year age difference

we forgot the hospital room…

we remembered how it was to pass the time

without a care in the world

just talking

*****

This patient was WILD, and I say that in the most complimentary of ways. Slightly “dramatic” with her aches and pains (the daughter would sit in a chair and just smile and shake her head), but that was okay, because it was just part and parcel of her fun, intense, I’m-riding-this-galloping-horse-of-a-life-all-the-way-to-the-decrepit-end essence.

Drama also came when she talked about her family. I’d hear the this and the that, the good and the bad parts of her life, the patient would tear up and look all wistful and forlorn, but then…I’d see that snaggly grin and those inquisitive sparkly eyes and I’d wonder…is she enjoying my wonderment at her exploits?? Short answer…YES.

And a little gossip?? Lord yes!! “Girl talk” would be a euphemism for some good-old chatty small-town gossip. Nothing too spiteful or hateful on her part…and hey, I’m just sitting there letting her run on…but I’m thinking it took away the dreariness of being 84 and practically bedridden, so “judge not” on her propensity to swing the sword of alcoholism, affairs, cheating at Bridge, and all other things that make life so convoluted.

Bless you, my dead friend. You might enjoy knowing you’re in the spotlight today. xoxoxo


THAT’S BETWEEN YOU AND THE LORD…HOW TO COME ALIVE TWO WEEKS BEFORE YOU DIE

if you’re reading this page, maybe you’re a Believer, maybe you’re not

as we say in the South…

that’s between you and the Lord

***

there was a patient one time, however, who was a Believer

but was “worried about some things”, as she put it

***

this woman was only 52 years old, but she knew her health condition was such

that she was probably on borrowed time

we got to talking and I saw the sadness and distress on her face

and the uneasiness in her demeanor

so I volunteered to call in a preacher to settle her spiritual mind

and she accepted the offer so, so gratefully

grasping at the straw

clinging ’til the morrow

when this fine, calm, and caring man of God would come

***

the preacher came the next day and spent some time alone with the patient

the patient’s face was wet with happy tears

and her countenance was glowing

when I came back in

***

I walked into the patient’s room the next morning and this is what I see

a changed woman, at peace

and this is what I hear

“I could hardly sleep last night, I was so excited about

who I was going to see today

and what the day would bring

I feel like I have a new life

thank you for bringing the preacher to me”

***

the patient was discharged a few weeks later

two weeks after that, I read her obituary in the paper

***

thank you to all of those who come to visit our patients in their time of need

sometimes a visit is life-changing

***

in memory and honor of a black-haired patient and Reverend Milton Gardner

*****

How shamed I was of any ill attitudes and unpleasant behavior I might have exhibited at ANY time in my life, after hearing this ill and dying woman tell me that she couldn’t sleep the night after the preacher came because she was so excited to think about what the new day would bring and who she was going to see.

What purity! What grace! What joy! What a testimony! Bless you, my patient-that-became-my-friend, in your heavenly home lo these past seven years.

I told the preacher how much I appreciated his eagerness and desire to come visit this stranger in the hospital and how her spiritual life was renewed by his visit and prayers. I also told him this…”if I never have another patient whose life is changed for the better through a salvation experience or a renewal of their faith, having helped JUST THIS ONE will be worth all my efforts.”

Thankfully, there ended up being more than “just one” patient who had a spiritual experience. This patient was the first, however, and she made a huge impression on me. After my experiences with her, working in therapy took on a whole new meaning for me…the idea that you could help, support, and encourage patients in other areas of their lives besides just improving their physical health.

We had a good therapy team and were always thankful that we helped our patients however we could, whatever their needs were. What a great five years spent caring for patients!!