Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The B.O. Tea Party

It began as a peaceful offshoot of the annual Methodist picnic, a simple badminton tournament. Then the Lutherans got involved, followed by the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and even a Baptist or two. It eventually became one big fondue pot of a tournament with the underlying current of a religious gathering which, in the spirit of fierce competition, was quickly forgotten. Not to be outdone by the LGBT, it was, for one year, titled as the MLEPB badminton tournament (Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist). But no one could remember the correct order, and really, it was open to all comers, even hopeless heretics like myself and Dollar Store Dave, who's only religion is frugality and two-buck-chuck wine, so it eventually became known as The Badminton Open, or The "B.O." to insiders.

A committee, comprised of former B.O. winners, meets on a regular basis to decide on all things pertinent to the tournament. Schedules, trophy designs, registration fees, as well as beverages, are discussed in great detail. Alcohol has been allowed on the sidelines for the past two years, despite the protests of Jean Twitchel, a former winner and strict Baptist who forbids herself to curse wildly or dance the jitterbug, but she can swing a badminton racket like she's swatting the devil himself.

The committee gatherings are informal, and members take turns hosting the event in their homes. The most recent meeting was at Jean Twitchel's house, and, due to the lack of fermented social lubricants, the tone was somewhat reserved. Tea was served along with cardboard-tasting cookies that could be stand-ins for hickory chips, should the need arise. While the group was sitting around discussing the grand prize for next year's tournament, an overnight junket to Nancy Dizzle's cottage in Galena, the youngest Twitchel became the center of attention. Livia Twitchel, Jean's three-year-old daughter, approached each member, offering them, with her little outstretched arm, a tiny cup of her own special tea, served in a toy teacup. It was plain water, and as Adgie Weems said while sipping her offering, "Ain't she the cutest thing?" After each presentation, Livia would run out of the room and return with another cupful for yet another guest. Everyone was happy to humor little Livia by drinking from her teacups, some even commenting on the refreshing quality of her brew.... until she got to me.

I recalled an adage my grandmother was fond of imparting, "Never take a drink from anyone under three feet tall." She had many of these sayings, based on a lifetime of experience and fears, most of which I woefully inherited. This particular piece of wisdom was generated from a formal tea party that occurred shortly after World War II. The event was a meeting of The Live Wires, a Presbyterian church group of no-nonsense Swiss women who favored footwear capable of supporting a wildebeest. The Live Wires, usually a suspicious bunch, threw caution to the wind and allowed a little girl to serve tea in toy teacups at their gathering. The serving was quickly brought to a halt when one of the women realized the girl could not reach the sink to get water for her teacups. They had all been drinking water from the toilet which was an easy scoop for the playful little server of tea. Every member of the Live Wires became ill, some from actual dysentery and some from just the thought of drinking water from the toilet. And so, horse sense was gathered and passed (along with a myriad of irrational phobias) through an unwitting lineage to me.

It was with grandma Nachtigal's caution in mind, that I refused Livia's offering. I merely said I was not thirsty, to which Livia's mother replied, "What's wrong with you, it's a little sip of water. Can't you be polite and at least take a sip?
Again, I said, "I'm really not thirsty."
Then Jean exploded in a frenzy befitting a mother bear in defense of her cub, "How come everyone else has manners enough to go along with Livia's game? How did you all of a sudden get so high and mighty!? Her water's not good enough for you? What, you need some special triple-filtered, hippie water? It's a tiny teacup full of water! She's a child, for Christ-sake! You're the worst part of an ass!"

Jean's uncharacteristic ascension to the brink of swearing spoke to the gravity of the moment, and the glares from the rest of the B.O. committee suggested they shared her sentiments. I sat there, stunned, contemplating the visual of the worst part of an ass, and sheepishly replied, "She's not even three feet tall. Ask her where she gets the water."
Jean composed herself, took Livia's hand and said, "Show mommy where you get the water."
As Livia pulled her mother towards the bathroom, I shouted after them, "Don't confuse the messenger," and thought of a phrase I'd heard on the Nature Channel: "The survival of a species often depends on the teachings of those who have gone before." I secretly glanced toward the heavens and thanked grandma Louise Nachtigal for her sage-like advice and for guiding me through the hazards of a seemingly-innocent tea party.