Chapter 3. Two Tea Parties

 

But on Saturday I couldn't go to Henry's, because an English boy and his mother were coming over for tea. My mother set everything up on the living-room table (including the fat silver sugar bowl filled with sugar lumps - you take them out with silver tongs), and reminded us to pass things to the guests first. One good thing about our mother is that she never corrects our manners in front of other people. I wish everyone's mother would do this. I hate it when parents say things like “What do you say? or scold their children in front of you.


When the guests came, the mothers introduced themselves and said ladylike things like,

“Please call me Sally. Then Mrs.Grant said,


“And this is my son Neil.

My mother put her put her arm around my shoulders.


“This is my oldest daughter, Elizabeth.
I hate the name Elizabeth and she knows it - I just gave her one look and she said, “But we always call her Libby.


She squeezed my shoulders and sort of pushed me towards them; I knew she wanted me to say hello politely so I did. Emmy did, too, but Bubby just stood behind my mother and so did our little brother.

Then we all sat down and the mothers talked.

We looked at Neil and he looked at us. Everything about him was light. His hair was yellow-white - more white than yellow - and his skin was pink and white, even more than ours and his eyes were light blue and the whites were very white. He had bangs, which most boys don't. Most boys I know have crew cuts.

Neil ate slowly and carefully, wiping his mouth after every bite. He sat up very straight - even his clothes were very straight - and he didn't spill anything, even his tea. He seemed like a real goody-goody.


I haven't said what I look like yet, so I'll describe myself now, too. I'm short for my age -- everyone in my class is taller than I am. But I'm strong. I can beat Kenny at wrestling and most of the boys in my class, too. My hair is as straight as hair can be, and it's cut in a straight line across my forehead and straight along the sides. In pictures, my eyes look straight at the camera; they're blue. I am not the kind of child grown-ups ever call “cute
or “just darling.


Emmy can be that kind of child. She has curly blond hair and she likes to be cuddled and to sit on grown-ups' laps.


The mothers talked - it was pretty boring, except when Mrs. Grant said:
“What is peanut butter?

I'd never met a mother who didn't know that.

The cookies were gone, so I asked if I could be excused and she said Emmy and I could take Neil upstairs. That really meant that we could only go if we brought him with us.
Neil was taller than I was, too; but I bet I was stronger. On the way up, I said,

“It's lucky that you or your mother didn't pour the tea.

“Why?

A stamp showing the Boston Tea Party. It's a
little hard to see: They're
dumping chests of tea into the harbor.

 

“Because you're English and we're American. If you'd given me a cup of tea, I'd have had to dump it out - in honor of the Boston Tea Party.

I was about to tell him what the Boston Tea Party was when he said:
“Rubbish.


I was too surprised to say anything. Then he said:


“My mother has given tea to lots of Americans before and THEY never poured it on the floor.


“Well, maybe other people don't do it but it's what I would do if an English person offered ME tea,
I said.


Pouring the tea on the floor WOULD be like the Boston Tea Party. In case you haven't heard of it: In Boston, at the beginning of the Revolution, a crowd of grown-ups disguised as Indians sneaked onto English ships and dumped all the tea into the harbor. I think it's neat that our country had such a fun start - grown-ups dressing up like Indians and throwing things overboard! And I like the name The Boston Tea Party, too. I didn't say any of that to Neil, though.

We brought him into our room and he stood in the middle of it, with his back very straight, turning his chin around and looking at everything quite coolly.


I was looking out the window at the rain when the front doorbell rang. I ran down and it was Henry!


“My mother said I could only come in if your mother said it was okay with her,
he said. “And she said to give your mother this note when you asked.


“Okay,
I said.


I ran in: the two mothers were still just sitting there, talking - that's all my mother ever does when her friends come over: talk.


“It's Henry: can he come in?


I gave her the note.


“Excuse me,“ she said to Mrs. Grant.


She read it quickly and then the two mothers looked at each other - I don't know if they used the secret code or whatever it is ladies use to tell each other things privately. I know they have one. (Once I called my mother and asked her to come get me at a friend's house. I told her NOT to tell them why. When she came, I listened to every word my mother said, and she didn't say anything about the reason; but at the end, the other mother said, looking relieved , “So THAT's what it was! So I knew my mother told her, but I'd heard every word she said and I don't know how she told her.)


My mother said Henry was “a nice boy and Mrs. Grant said Neil wasn't shy and then she laughed and said something I didn't quite understand.


“All right,“ my mother said (to me). “As long as all four of you play together, and ask before you go outside.


I ran back.


“She said yes!


We ran upstairs. Neil was talking to Emmy, looking a little nicer than he had before. And when Henry and I were listing things we could do and trying to choose, he looked really interested and after awhile he said:


“In England on rainy days people go down the stairs on trays. It's called indoor tobogganing.


That sounded fun to me.


“Let's try it!“ I said. “We don't have any big trays - except the one my mother is using - but what about a box? There are plenty of those lying around!


“A box going down stairs with people in it would be hard to control,“ Henry said. “And dangerous, too.


He looked at Neil kind of disapprovingly.


“I haven't actually done it,Neil said.


I still wanted to try it, but one else did, and Henry kept saying more and more reasons against it. Finally I said:


“Oh, all right! What about Sardines?


“What's that?”Neil said eagerly, as tho
ugh he thought it was going to be something exciting.


“Someone hides -- when you find him, you get into the hiding place, too - IF you can do it without anyone else seeing you,” I said, looking at Emmy. Once when Peg was it, Emmy held out her arms and shouted: 'Peggy!' as soon as she saw her - right in front of all of us, even though no one else had seen Peggy! It was kind of funny, but still.


“That was when I was only five,”Emmy said.


When it was my turn to hide, I ran, quietly, to the big barrel filled with crumpled up paper I'd seen in the dining-room. I boosted myself up with my arms (the way I do when I jump onto the kitchen counter) and then it was easy to lower my legs in quietly, so the paper wouldn't rustle.


I curled up like a cat; all I could see was the ceiling and the sides of the barrel. I could hear the others tramping around, and laughing and yelling. Something fell over with a loud crash.


Then I heard quick footsteps in the dining-room. I looked up: and saw my mother staring down at me.


“Honestly, Libby!”She said. “No! No! Don't move!”


She grabbed me by one shoulder and one knee so hard that it hurt, and swung me out of the barrel and up into the air. Then she let go of me, fast -- my feet banged the floor.

“You are the limit,” she said. “Can't you ever be careful of anything?”

“But - what did I do?”She just looked at me. “Was there something in the barrel besides paper?”I said.

“The wildflower breakfast set.”I knew the one she meant. She put her hand in the barrel and took out a big ball of paper and held it in both hands. Without looking at me, she said, “This china was my grandmother's. I've never broken even one tea cup handle.”


Henry, Neil, and Emmy ran in - they stopped when they saw our mother and stood in the doorway staring at her with their mouths hanging open. Henry and Emmy know that our mother doesn't yell and doesn't hit and doesn't get mad. She wasn't yelling but she really was mad, everyone could see that.


“If ONE THING in that china barrel is broken -”she stopped; I waited but she didn't say anything else.


“What?” I said. “What will happen?”


She didn't say anything.


“IS anything broken?” I said.

The Boston Tea Party.

 

“I don't know.”


“Well can't you look?” I said - I hate waiting for punishments, I'd rather just get it over with.


She didn't answer me; she just looked at the ball of paper in her hands - it was probably one of the china pieces.


“If anything is broken there's nothing I can do about it now,”she said, finally. She put the china piece (whatever it was) back in the barrel, very gently, without looking at me at all.


“But then when will I find out what my punishment is going to be?”

“You'll just have to wait until we come back from England and I unpack this barrel,”she said, and went back to the living-room.
Her grandmother gave her the breakfast set because she liked it so much, and she always washes it by hand, not in the dishwasher. Each piece has flowers painted on it and she says they're realistic - that's one reason she liked them so much when she was a child. She liked flowers and china and dolls and things like that when she was a little girl, she wasn't a tomboy like me.


Slowly, I walked to the living-room door to tell my mother I was sorry - she had looked so sad, and it was a pretty stupid thing to have done. But my mother's back was to the door, and when Mrs. Grant saw me, she looked almost as if she was scared. I didn't want to apologize in front of her.


So I went back to the dining room: Neil and Emmy were talking - he seemed shocked and she looked worried. Henry was peering curiously into the china barrel.


I looked into it, too.


“Maybe nothing's broken,”Henry said. “It looks like there's a lot of padding in there, and you're pretty light.”


That was nice of him; but I wondered what my father would do. My mother hardly ever punishes us (Henry always says he wishes she could be our teacher, “Because she'd always be saying 'I'll give you one more chance' ”). My father does.

 

 

The teapot from the wildflower breakfast set.

 

 

 

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Blow Out the Moon is in many libraries and some bookstores. If you see it with only its spine showing, please turn it face out so people will see it! Thank you. It's also online at amazon.

Blow Out the Moon (former title There and Back Again) copyright 1999, 2000 Libby Koponen. All rights reserved. The pictures of ocean li ners are from the collection of Kevin R. Tam. Used with permission.