Mum would pour the tea, (LAN CHOO – one for each person and one for the pot), light up the Turf cigarette, add the required white sugar and we’d talk.
‘What am I getting for my birthday/Christmas/Easter? Why didn’t I get a box of Derwents Mum? How come Billy got 8 Easter eggs?
Whatever the answer, the message would always be, ‘The best is yet to come.’ And that would satisfy me.
Mum gave up cigarettes by the time I started secondary school but the tea was still “white and one” and poured with love. ‘Why is it taking so long to get to the holidays? When can I go on the train by myself?’ The answer would be along the lines of “Everything comes to those who wait,” but the underlying message would always be, ‘The best is yet to come.’
College was a new experience. Mum was moving with the times too. Tea bags! The tea pot now lived under the sink and the tea canister had been banished to the pantry. Cups of tea, hands around the cup, became the conduit for in depth discussions about boyfriends, (lack of), potential husbands, (unlikely without a boyfriend), and marriage. I wanted to believe, ‘The best is yet to come.’ It did.
With my marriage I saw less of Mum, calling in as I did for “a quick cuppa” in between work and social engagements. Now Mum’s tea was stronger. ‘I’ll have your tea bag as well, Love.’ Sometimes she would forget that I now had raw sugar. With the birth of our daughter I saw her more often but for less time. ‘Thanks Mum. Gotta run.’ Working mothers are good at drinking tea on the run.
As time went by Mum’s mobility decreased as a degenerative muscular disease took over. ‘What can we do for you Mum? What would make it easier?’ She would always shrug off our concerns and offers of help. After all, ‘The best is yet to come.’ While this mantra was now embedded in my mitochondrial DNA, I found it increasingly hard to believe this standard answer.
The tepid tea in the nursing home came in a half-filled, lidded plastic mug. Whilst mum sipped it through a straw we would sometimes talk about what was to come.
On that fateful last day, I whispered, ‘Mum. You are the best.’ And then as she slipped slowly away I reminded her, ‘Mum, the best is yet to come.’
I didn’t need to say it. She’d always known it.
It was a comforting thought.