"The tea was warm and melted the ice in our glasses, and it went down sweeter and more delicious than anything I’d ever had."
This is a story about sunshine.
Many years ago, while my parents were working long hours running their shop, I spent my summer days at my grandmother’s house. We read books and went for a walk every day, stopping at neighbors’ houses for something to drink and to admire their flower gardens. We fried okra and clipped laundry to the clothesline and, in late afternoons, we sat in the porch swing, kicking our feet just enough to keep it swaying, to keep the breeze going.
By August, summer moved in slow motion, and when the sun finally shot the temperatures into the 90s, the heat whipped us. We stopped using the stove to cook. We stayed inside, confined to the one room in the house that had a box-unit air conditioner mounted in the window. We stuck our faces up to it and breathed in the shock of cold air. We froze bananas and ate them like popsicles to stay cool, and we soaked towels in ammonia spirits and draped them across our necks.
One afternoon, while flipping through the stack of Good Housekeeping magazines my grandmother kept in a basket on the floor, I came across a recipe for Lipton Sun Tea. I took the page to my grandmother and asked if we could make it.
She already had the tea bags, of course — in fact, we already had tea; my grandmother always had a fresh pitcher in the refrigerator — but neither of us could deny the appeal of something as simple as brewing our favorite beverage in the sun.
That day, she took me to Rose’s, a discount store in town, and we bought a special Sun Tea jar, one with a yellow screw-top lid and a spigot to release the tea. Back at home, we filled it up with water, put in three family-size tea bags and set the jar on the concrete walkway, taking advantage of our newfound use for the sweltering August heat.
Then we just waited. We willed the clouds to stay away. We laughed about how our sun tea would turn into cloud tea, and nobody wanted that. We checked on our concoction every 15 minutes, tilting the jar from side to side. We drank glasses of our already-made tea from the refrigerator, and, while it was sweet and delicious, we were convinced that it would be inferior to what was sitting outside in the sun, if for no other reason than the sheer time it was taking.
Gradually, the sides of the jar heated up, and the water began to tint a deep amber color, like resin or syrup, taking on a rich bronze hue as if the sun itself had permeated the jar.
It took all day. By dinnertime, we finally proclaimed it “done” and poured ourselves a glass. The tea was warm and melted the ice in our glasses, and it went down sweeter and more delicious than anything I’d ever had. We drank nearly the entire jug in one sitting, going back to the spigot for more, saying how, yes, it was worth the wait, the way so many good things, done simply, are.
When I look back now, I can remember the ease of those long summer days, and how the simplest activities enacted beneath the blaze of an August sky — searching for four-leafs in a patch of clover; smelling approaching rain just before a storm; brewing sunshine in a gallon jar — were the most fulfilling.
It’s no wonder we stretched them out for as long as possible.