On Kindness and Carrots
You never forget your first love, and that applies to more than just romance. Decades have passed, yet I still remember when I first fell in love with teatime. And I can recall the taste of that tea room’s incredible soup as if I’d eaten it only yesterday.
My friend Kimberly and I, students at the University of Arkansas, were back home in Bentonville that weekend for Kimberly’s birthday. My mother, eager to encourage anything ladylike, was treating the two of us to tea as Kimberly’s birthday gift. She’d made reservations at the Victorian Village Tea Room in Eureka Springs, a beautiful Ozark Mountain town beloved by tourists and locals alike. Kimberly and I adored everything Victorian, and I was excited to be going to tea.
That Saturday was sunny, and I remember that Whitney Houston’s upbeat “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” was blaring from my Ford Tempo’s cassette tape player when I picked up Kimberly. I wore my new Laura Ashley cabbage rose dress with a Battenburg lace collar. Kimberly wore an ivory lace blouse and a ruffled pink skirt with a matching eel skin belt. I also remember that she’d gotten a gift of some new gold beads for her Add-A-Bead necklace, which was almost full. Next to hers, mine looked like a Sad-A-Bead necklace.
On the way to Eureka Springs, we discussed what teatime might be like. Mom had said to be sure and keep my pinkie extended as I sipped tea, as that was the proper thing to do—and I had a hard time being proper. I loved the Victorian period, but I was also a tomboy who played basketball and tennis. Kimberly was the girly one, not me.
Upon arriving at the tea room, we saw they had written our names on a blackboard out front. “Welcome, Kimberly and Jennifer. Happy Birthday, Kimberly!”
A friendly brunette greeted us and said we’d be dining in the Victorian Parlor. We were promptly ushered into a high-ceilinged room and seated on a mahogany sofa upholstered in burgundy velvet. A marble-topped table sat before us, already set with floral teacups and napkins.
The waitress gave us a list of five teas to select from. Kimberly chose Earl Grey, and I chose English Afternoon Tea because I liked anything English. After our tea was poured, I was surprised to find how much I enjoyed hot tea. Growing up in the South, I drank lots of iced tea but never hot tea. At school, I lived on Diet Coke.
A mother and daughter came into the parlor and were seated at a small table in the corner. The little girl whispered to her mother and pointed at Kimberly. I assumed she was admiring Kimberly’s gorgeous hair. She’d just gotten a new spiral perm, and her amazing golden halo ensured she never lacked for a boyfriend—or admirers in general. I, however, still sported the short hair and feathery bangs I’d gotten in my well-intended if unsuccessful attempt to look like Princess Di.
The waitress said our tea tray was almost ready, and while we waited she offered us a cup of their famous Carrot Soup, served in another elegant teacup. Carrot Soup didn’t sound so great to me, but Kimberly and I had manners enough to take a cup and give it a try.
“You go first,” I said.
She did. “Oh, wow!”
“Wow-good or wow-bad?”
“Take a bite.”
I spooned past some froufrou “roses” made of carrot curls and tasted the richest, creamiest, most velvety goodness I had ever eaten.
“This can’t be carrots,” I said. “Tastes way too good.” I normally lived off Pringles potato chips, Snickers bars, and Taco Bell burritos, so if I liked the stuff, that was saying something. I asked the waitress what was in the soup besides carrots. She smiled politely and said it was a secret family recipe, but she’d be glad to have the owner send some soup home with us. Thinking of my empty dorm room refrigerator, I accepted the offer.
As we attacked the tea tray, Kimberly and I giggled like schoolgirls and spoke with fake British accents. There we were, college students, dining like the Queen with this fancy metal stand that had three different plates of food on it. There were tea sandwiches, scones, tiny desserts—even chocolate-covered strawberries.
Kimberly loved sweets and went straight for the top plate, quickly devouring her strawberry, brownie bite, lemon square, and a fruit tart thingie. I ate five sandwiches, which were so good, and had a scone and some sweets as well.
When we finished, the waitress told us we were welcome to look around the rest of the tea room, and we did. The rooms were so elegant with their ruffled curtains and artwork of Victorian ladies. Kimberly said her mom, an antiques dealer, would love their decor.
When it was time to leave and I asked about leaving the tip, the waitress told us that, too, had been taken care of in advance by my mom—which didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that the tea room owner had heard how much we enjoyed her Carrot Soup and brought us a white plastic bag containing two huge Styrofoam containers of it, lids on top and tightly wrapped.
Kimberly suggested I hang on to the soup, and after we both got back to campus Sunday night, she’d come to my room and we’d eat.
When Sunday night rolled around, Kimberly came over and, when we got hungry, pulled the crinkled bag out of my mini fridge.
She opened the bag, removed the containers, and with a puzzled look, pulled out a white index card.
“What’s that?” I said.
“It’s the recipe for this Carrot Soup!”
I remember that act of kindness to two college girls to this day. And when I say I can still remember that soup as though I ate it yesterday, that’s because … I did.