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Been Thinkin' About...Raspberry [licorice] tea

It was a cold spring that year, a long, cold, rainy spring and even when the sky was clear, the air was damp and chill. Although the wild roses were blooming, it was as though some ghost of winter just wouldn't quite let up. Much like the weather, I too, was stuck in a strange limbo then, somewhere between man and boy and not knowing quite what to do with either.

Winter is a fallow time. Winter's bleakness is meant as a time to prepare, internally, spiritually, a time for seeds' cold blanket of dark and soil and frost moons to do the work unseen. Our bright lights and heavy schedules do not allow us to go beneath anymore, into the underworld, into the unknown cold dark to find ourselves in haunting silence. We are poorer for that. Summer is a fertile, fruitful time, of ripening tomatoes in the sun when the soul and the weather is easy. Running outside barefoot, corn on the cob, life-giving sunshine and that expectant sense of immortality in the forever green. "Summertime and the livin' is easy," sang Ella Fitzgerald and we meant it as we sang along.

But spring? Beyond the pastiche of daffodils and spring lambs, there are unanswered questions, liminal spaces undiscovered, undisclosed, too-often unquestioned. The dandelions of my childhood bloomed in profusion, hated "weeds" brought over from England too many years ago to count for tea and even wine and, more importantly, healing medicinals. I can muster no hate for dandelions, having gathered little handfuls once over and over. Little boys have an innate need to present their mothers with bouquets. Those dandelions would wilt and brown each time in their juice-glass vases on the table.

But now, lanky, misplaced, almost-grown, and too old for dandelion bouquets, I was in the Saturday morning kitchen and boiling water for raspberry tea. Bread, margarine, toast crumbs, Melmac plates, all were in the way, a Saturday morning mess, crowded kitchen counters. Outside, sounds of my dad working on something in the garage. Another misplaced space, a push and pull between us never resolved. I would only be an annoyance and in the way, even as I labored beneath certain existential demands. Sons were meant to spend time with their fathers, no matter the price.

I poured the boiling water over the raspberry tea bag, full of hope. Something as poetic as raspberry tea should help. The black tea in the bright purple cardboard had beckoned from the shelf in the Kroger's store the Friday afternoon prior and my mom relented. This was something artistic, flowery, elegant, speaking of fine china. Somehow, I hoped for answers to questions I could not fully ask, which says more of American commercialism than it should. I poured the water into my thick white mug with pheasants and added a cupful of sugar. Drinking tea without sugar was an unspoken sin.

Outside, more clanking and the subdued sounds of swearing. I was supposed to be out there, of course, though only in the way. Out of place. There was nothing I could honestly contribute to that particular narrative. I buttered some toast with margarine, and took a sip of tea. Sugary, the blackness of familiar black tea, an overtone of harsh, artificial berry flavor, and overwhelming wave of black licorice.

Whomever thought that black licorice would make a good pairing with berries is beyond me, but it was 1995, that strange space between yuppies and grunge rock. Nonetheless, nearly three decades later I'm still remembering that raspberry tea, that threshold moment in time and space as the damp springtime April made its way through half-opened windows. That season of change would pass, along with another 29 years, each season with its own questions, its own half-answers. Even then, that box of strange tea promised so much, delivered so little. This spring has again been one of cold and damp; a soul-searching time. They say adulthood changes such things, but they are wrong. Questions of the unknown will always remain. But this morning, today, the tea is decidedly better, promising a better hope, a better tomorrow, even amid beauty and the wonderment of loss.

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