It is almost Thanksgiving, and I am looking back over the past few months. I started to print out a new menu last evening--a habit of 12 years. But in the past, I printed it out so that my husband, whose sight was failing, could go over with a magnifying glass, make suggestions, and decide, with me, if there were holes in it, or gaps in what we were offering that we could remedy before the final printing. Our conversations always led to an improvement that neither of us could have arrived at alone. He was the one who insisted we have tea sandwiches. I was the one who said we’d have to stay open on Sundays. Both of these decisions have contributed mightily to the life of Podunk.
He is not here, to look at the menu. As many of you know, he died in January. Today I feel the years; it’s been a day of reflection because, perhaps, I finally have time to think. On Easter Sunday, we were just starting to stumble out of the darkness of my husband’s death when an errant babystroller left me with a broken wrist. While I faced a cast and surgery, some beloved customers--the Daughters of Podunk--took over the tea room. Hannah, bless her, posted a Google spreadsheet and they all signed up for days and hours and evenings, all while working their own jobs and living their own lives. Their boyfriends did dishes on weekends, and one of them baked up the most beautiful cookies and bars for Saturday teas. I was the very old dog. They were full of new tricks, and new ideas, and helpful advice. Podunk is stronger for their presence. I am stronger for their presence.
These days, I am mostly alone with the customers. My wrist is healed, my heart hurts less, and I remember how my husband, daughter and I built this tea room as an answer to every family’s quest to just “be together.” That’s all we wanted, and that’s what we had, but she is in college and he has gone on to, I hope, a warm hearth and a cat at his feet. Everyone’s pictures of heaven is a little different, but mine for him is that there is someone to cook his favorite dishes, let him smoke a good cigar on occasion, and to grind cardamom into his coffee. Or tea.
I am grateful, today, that I can hear his advice in my head and then make any decision I want, try any new recipe, reorganize the tea room’s very innards and turn us into a mocktail bar if I so choose. I am grateful that people keep coming in to sip our brand of idiosyncracy, and to put up with the eccentricities of a one-woman business. There are other tea rooms around New York City and I am glad for all of them and the tea-drinkers who keep us all in business, but I am just as glad to be the one person behind the recipes, the menus, the paint on the walls, the signs in the room, and the inventory for all of it. When you come in to Podunk, here I am. If you want the corporate treatment, regular hours, a full staff of eager employees, I can recommend a few places. But if you want a place where we cut out one scone at a time, and leave a little early on cold November evenings, this is it. And thank you for stopping by.