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The Tea Basket
by Zach Smith

All I wanted for Christmas one year was one of those nice tea baskets. You know the kind, with a few varieties of teas, crackers, summer sausage, that sort of thing. They aren’t very expensive and you can find them anywhere. Just about every night, I would drink tea, eat a little platter of crackers and cheese, and watch video tapped episodes of the Twilight Zone. It was a great way to wind down.  

I got the basket, not much of a surprise, it was literally the only thing I asked for. Instead of going to any number of stores to get a basket already assembled, displayed, and sealed with shrink wrap, my mother and aunt had made it themselves, piece by piece: a nice looking tea pot, a few small cups and a basket from a flea market; summer sausage, dried salami, artisan crackers, short breads, lemon curd, sample sized jams, mustard, and even caviar from the grocery store. My aunt (the artsy one in the family) put the basket together. I wanted to wait until things had calmed down and there was a full week of free evenings, in order to open, eat, and finish all the different treats before they would go bad.

On a Monday night in early January the tea basket was finally cracked into. I made a nice pot of Earl Gray, and on a long platter assembled an arty looking cheese plate. I ate slowly, making sandwiches out of the crackers, summer sausage, and smoked Gouda, using a tiny fork and strangely bent knife to assemble each one. Eating each sandwich in two bites. Taking a sip of tea between each bite and before and after each sandwich was assembled. I used one cracker to scoop some of the caviar onto another cracker. The extra care paid off when feeling the tiny eggs pop between my teeth.

All in all, it had been the best tea related experience I ever had.

The following day I woke up with a sore throat. Since I had no fever my mom sent me to school. During the day, my throat had gotten worse. I had tea that night, but nothing to eat, neither dinner nor delicate little tea snakes from a well prepared basket.

The sore throat did not go away, not for two whole months. I saw the same doctor any number of times, but he couldn’t figure it out. The inside of my bottom lip was full of lacerations like I’d been chewing tobacco for decades. My uvula was inflated with an ulcer growing right on it. For breakfast I would eat a single pop tart for the entire day.

Near the tail end, and 40 pounds lighter, the doctor finally figured out that it was mono. He gave me some medicine and in another two weeks or so things were somewhat back to normal.

I could eat real food again. Of course by that time everything that had been in the tea basket had gone bad, but I learned my lesson. I never asked for such a simple Christmas gift again.