I lifted down the teapot my mother-in-law had given me from the top of our microwave for my granddaughter. Her three-year-old frame scuffled into a kitchen chair wide-eyed as I placed it in front of her face that was flush with the table. The fat flowery thing sat on a wide-mouthed over-sized tea cup, which served as its base. I separated the two in front of her.
She chose the only triangular tea bag amongst the boxes of teas on the table. With pinky up, she dangled the bag by its tab, submerging the bag into warm water I had run into the pot. After bobbing the bag, she poured the weak tea. Palming the cup with both hands, she could have been a guest at the Mad Hatter's tea party, slurping from the bowl-like ceramic.
She giggled, squeezing lemon juice into her teacup from a yellow plastic container. After each squirt and sip, she added a honey stick by pinching and sliding out the sweet stuff. Tea splashed onto the table when the stick slipped from between her fingers, causing her hand to hit the cup. More juice, more honey, splash. Juice, honey, splash.
A childhood memory of having tea with my grandmother inspired me to push the sloppy stuff aside with a magical flourish of hands. “Let's do an experiment,” I said with my eyes widening now. No objection from my guest as she sat expectant.
I got our shot glass from the cabinet. We typically use it for rinsing paint brushes when water-coloring. This time I reached behind my granddaughter, opened the refrigerator and added milk to the tiny glass. My elementary school science process mingled with the childhood teatime memory.
“First, take a look at the milk.” Feeling more like a poor magician, I gave the second step. “Okay, squeeze the lemon juice into the milk.”
I bent my head close to hers and we both said, “Eew.”
“It curdled,” I explained, repeating the word.
As with the tea, she added more and then more juice, stirring the mixture. It separated into larger chunks of curdled milk. “Let me empty it and you can start again,” I assured her, taking the brimming glass. I rinsed it and poured more milk. This time, she dipped her face towards the glass before she lifted the plastic container. The science process had already set in.
“What do you think will happen?” I asked.
“It's gonna curdle,” she said and shot a stream into the glass.
Knowing that my granddaughter has a natural interest in science prompted this fun event. Not especially scientific, I patted myself on the back for coming up with this idea. But it really came from adding lemon to tea with milk while tea partying with my grandmother. As a writer, I also loved introducing, “curdled” to my granddaughter and repeating the funny-sounding word.
Simple, precious incidents like this recur through generations, mixing nostalgia with learning and laughter. What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than experimenting with shots of curdled milk and spilt tea? I basked in the childish magic that turned a modest kitchen from a recent painting studio to an English tea house, and then into a laboratory.