When I was a young boy in southern Virginia, one thing in life was as certain as the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m not talking about church, or family, or any of the other things that (although they seemed immune to it) gradually did change. No, the one immutable constant of life in Pittsylvania County was iced tea.
Every Sunday after church when we visited my grandmother’s house, along with the fried chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, vegetables, and pickled peaches, we always had iced tea. Sweetened with real sugar, of course.
In our house, an erstwhile Tropicana orange juice jug served as the continuous container for sweetened iced tea in our refrigerator. My sister and I were allowed to help ourselves, even when we were as young as age five.
Our parents also trusted us to act as our own babysitters when they had to go “out”. They didn’t worry about the several rifles and shotguns around the house that were within easy reach and always loaded, because they knew that we knew how to handle them.
On one such occasion, my mother gave us strict instructions not to drink up all the tea, because she only had a little left and wouldn’t get a chance to make more before dinner. We could have some, but please leave enough. My sister and I promised that we would.
When you’re five years old, you play hard. We worked up quite a sweat outdoors and rushed inside to cool off with some sweet iced tea. We carefully poured only as much as we could and still leave some for dinner. Then we guzzled our glasses down.
Still panting, we looked at the jar, then at each other. My sister said, “We could have just a little more — there’ll be plenty.” So we took just a half-inch more in each of our glasses.
Then another half-inch.
Then we realized that there already wasn’t enough left for dinner. Oh boy, were we in trouble. we had promised — and our parents believed in spankings for broken promises. What could we do?
“I know,” said my sister. “Let’s make some more. They’ll never know.”
“OK,” says I, “um, how do you make tea, anyway?”
“I dunno,” replied my sister, “but it can’t be that hard. Lets start with what we’ve got and add to it.”
“OK, um, well for sure we need some water.”
So we put the jug under the faucet and ran some water in, but not too full.
“Now,” says my sister. “It looks too thin. Let’s add some milk.”
Somehow that didn’t help.
“It needs to be more red,” she said.
“How about some ketchup?” I offered.
“Yeah, that looks better, but now it’s too red. Let’s add some mustard.”
“It’s too light-colored now. It needs to be more brown.”
“Nestle’s Quik!” we both said together.
“Well,” I said, as my sister stirred in the brown powder. “It doesn’t really look like tea, but it’s about full now so I guess we’re done.”
“Wait! We have to add the sugar!”
No matter how we stirred, something didn’t seem quite right about this tea.
“Don’t worry, they’ll never know the difference,” my sister assured me. So we tucked the jar back into the refrigerator and hoped nobody would notice.
Later, after our parents came home, we were playing quietly in our room when we suddenly heard our names pronounced at an all-too-familiar volume, followed immediately by “come here right this instant!”
We sheepishly proceeded to the kitchen, where we beheld on the table eight 8-ounce glasses filled to the brim with our pretentious concoction. Our eyes must have been three inches wide each.
“We accidentally drank all of the tea and we were so afraid that you’d spank us that we made some more,” my sister hurriedly exclaimed.
“How nice,” our mother replied. “Now you may have the pleasure of drinking it. All of it.”
We looked at each other, then at the murky liquid that seemed even more disgusting when seen through the green-tinted glasses it inhabited.
“Go ahead,” our mother said. “You’re not getting up from this table until it’s all gone.”
We dutifully sat down and each took a sip. Disgusting. But we had been made to clean our plates at every meal, even when it was tomatoes stewed with bread and sugar, so we figured we’d have to buck up and stand in for the long haul. But thankfully, our parents relented after seeing our tortured faces. They rightly surmised that we had received enough punishment already, and we never tried a stunt like that again.
Well, at least not exactly like that one.