This Story Proves That Grandmothers Really Are the Best Thing to Happen to Anyone

Grandma's magic land of tea parties and cookies was not ruled by "Let's hurry up."

Country Magazine grandmother time stands stillCourtesy Pat Stevens
Grandma Ruby Zelda Smallwood, seen holding the author in 1964, always had homemade sugar cookies and a dog-eared 1919 copy of “The Three Bears” at their tea parties.

Ordinary things—a whiff of vanilla or a glimpse at my china hutch—can instantly whisk me back to my grandmother’s tea parties. For a moment, we’re sitting on the floor again in front of her curio cabinet and china teacup collection. For a second, I’m a carefree 5-year-old with a beloved teddy bear named Charles.

Sometimes I can still smell lemony polish on her gleaming hardwood floors or see monarch butterflies darting through her delphiniums and lantanas. Sometimes I can still feel the safety of her touch or hear her giggle.

Her world had no clocks that chimed, “Time to wash the dishes, time to mop the floors, time to take out the trash.” Her old-fashioned tea parties didn’t start with “Be careful with my china cups,” “Don’t spill the Kool-Aid” or “Let’s hurry up.”

Instead, it was “Did I ever tell you about the time when…?” And off my bear and I went to her magic land. She knew recipes by heart and measured by the pinch, the dash and the splash, giggling as we handed my much-loved bear pieces of cookie dough to sample.

Each teacup had a story. Someone had traveled out of state—at a time when most never ventured beyond the small Texas village where she’d spent her entire life—and brought her this beautiful keepsake. The special mauve sets with delicate roses were from her best friend, a reminder of their friendship.

Country Magazine grandmother time stands still teddy bearCourtesy Pat Stevens
Charles, the author’s still surviving teddy bear, was always included in tea parties with her grandma.

After baking cookies, we picked fresh flowers from her backyard. We chatted about flowers, and later I discovered we had really chatted about life. Afterward, she’d tell me, “Get a vase and pick out your favorite teacups. Be sure to set a place for Charles. This will be our best party yet.” Always I chose the mauve teacups.

Her world without clocks had no grown-up rules. We rummaged through her “Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes” to dress up. She never said, “Don’t pick those pearls; they’re my special ones. Don’t choose that hat; it’s my favorite. Don’t drop that purse; it’s my church one.” She said, “Special things aren’t any good if you don’t use them.”

Each time, I thought she must be the luckiest person in the world to have that special teacup collection. Each time, I knew there would be another party, the best one yet.

After every tea party came an afternoon nap under her comfy quilt. She always reminded me that her own grandmother had made the quilt using swatches from favorite dresses as a surprise wedding gift to her.

Decades later, the teacups are still as treasured in my modern home as they were in Grandma’s old-fashioned one. My little granddaughter Callista and I plop down to sip lemonade, eat cookies and spin some interesting tales of our own.

“Once upon a time in a world long, long ago lived a granny who had a curio cabinet, who had friends who traveled to places far, far away, and a teddy bear who loved cookies for breakfast…”

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Originally Published in Country