On May 20, 2018, this tea drinker enthusiastically attended The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party at the historic Columbia Gorge Hotel in Hood River, Oregon. Sponsored by Opportunity Connections, this fundraiser was loads of fun for kids of all ages.
Opportunity Connections is a “private, non-profit organization that has been serving people in the Columbia Gorge since 1967. We offer assistance for people with developmental disabilities to live as independently as possible while working and enjoying activities in their own communities.” Several of the adults receiving services are former students of mine, and the opportunity to see them dressed in their finery at a beautiful historic hotel was too good to pass up, so I purchased a ticket and put it on my calendar a full month ahead of the date. Certainly, I would have time to convince someone to go with me.
After the third friend turned me down (now I know how teen boys feel when Prom rolls around), I could not possibly handle another rejection and resigned myself to going alone. First hurdle side-stepped and the second loomed: dress. What is it about a tea party that just screams out “girly dress”? Dresses and I have never been comfortable companions. My ’50’s childhood had a weird dress code: little girls wore dresses to school until we developed a “waist,” at which time we could upgrade to separates – skirts and blouses or skirts and sweaters. Hosiery was another milestone reserved for first communion or bat mitzvah (age 13). I never did develop a waist, a point of great consternation for my mother, meaning the benchmarks of my first communion, nylon stockings, and separates arrived on the same day; sealing my utter distaste for the dress. I had to have one for the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, however, and I found one online. Advertised as a “tea party dress,” I was set.
All dressed up and wearing sensible shoes, I arrived fashionably late and was seated at a table with the Mad Hatter, two fetching children, and their grandparents. The dining room was festive with “Alice in Wonderland” decorations, place settings, and a lovely teacup at every place. Scores of children dressed to the nines scampered about, some in full costume. I caught sight of several former students. A silent auction was held in one room, croquet outdoors, a free make-your-own-hat station in the foyer, and an impressive display of beautiful – if impractical – teapots.
Soon, a three-tiered serving tray of scones, biscuits, lemon tarts, chocolate-covered strawberries, and tiny sandwiches, – crusts cut off – arrived. My very first tea party, with all the classic trappings, was about to begin. A server dressed like Alice herself brought around a pretty teapot and poured English Breakfast into my cup. Not very hot, it was pleasant enough, and I drank six or seven cups as I watched the proceedings. I was most interested in what the children were drinking. The choice was simple – water or English Breakfast. I walked around the dining room, hearing some variation of “Moooooom, I don’t like tea,” at least a dozen times. The adorable little girl at my table dumped her tea into a water glass, splashed some cream into her cup, and drank that. (Her grandfather later reported that after two egg salad sandwiches, a lemon tart, and three chocolate covered strawberries, the cream in the cup made a hasty return trip.)
Although the afternoon was quite pleasant, I sensed a missed opportunity. The goal of raising funds for a most worthy cause was realized by the large turnout, successful auctions, costume contest, and generous donations. But why mediocre-quality English Breakfast tea for a largely under-ten-years old crowd? Why not jasmine pearls – a tea that most children like? A child’s first tea experience should be memorable – as this one certainly was – and leave the kiddos wanting to drink more tea. Most of the children in attendance left thinking that tea is nasty, and many will carry that impression with them forever, refusing to experience the tremendous variety of good whole leaf tea.
If I can figure out a way to do so diplomatically, I hope to persuade the organizers to include quality and kid-friendly whole leaf tea next year. Instead of tea being the afterthought of a splendid event, why not make it one of the features the children – and adults – look forward to? Ideas are welcome, readers, so bring them on!
All photos provided by author, photos of children used with permission.