The Vintage Iced Tea Pitcher
A summer thunderstorm had knocked the power out, and the thermostat showed it’d already crept up to seventy-nine in the living room. Fortunately, I had just poured myself a glass of iced tea, and that was what I sipped as I sat on the porch.
It was still humid after that storm. Steam rose off the asphalt at the end of our driveway, and tree branches and leaves carpeted the path of the utility truck that had just pulled up at the Wilsons’ house down the street. I hoped we’d have electricity again soon.
I held my glass up to my forehead and pretended its cold, icy surface was an ice pack.
“Ellen, what’re you doing?”
“Cooling off, which I highly recommend,” I told Mark as he headed up the driveway. I knew he was about to go investigate that utility truck.
I held the glass in place a moment, then looked at the pretty pink flowers on it and smiled. I remembered the day I found that pitcher and iced tea glasses …
Since I taught seventh graders nine months out of the year, those summer days of freedom and no five a.m. wake-up alarms were precious indeed.
That Friday morning, I left home and stopped by Starburnt—as Mark always called it—for a cup of chai and a scone, then got on the interstate and headed north.
Soon, I spotted a billboard for the “South’s Largest Indoor Flea Market.” That would’ve been more impressive if I hadn’t visited before, because I knew the place was heavy on the fleas, light on the markets.
Next, I saw a sign advertising “Mega Antique Mall, 200+ Booths.” The sign said it was just a few exits farther, and I needed to stop for gas anyway, so I got off there and followed the signs to the mega mall—only to find that it was mega closed. Sheets of plywood were nailed where the doors once stood. Back to the car, back to the interstate. I’d give it one more shot before heading home.
The next billboard had a name I’d never seen before: “Benson’s Antiques — Exit 117 — Something for Everyone.” I got there in twenty minutes.
When I pulled up, I saw that Benson’s appeared to be open, which I took as a good sign.
Benson’s was no mega mall. The antiques were apparently sold in a rickety old Victorian house, its wraparound porch cluttered with rotting wicker, iron plant stands, and oak dressers with broken mirrors.
Opening the front door, I peeked into what looked like hoarder heaven. I glanced around for the owner but spotted no one, so I started browsing the dusty tables piled high with cardboard boxes.
Some old magazines caught my eye. One issue had a 1965 Thunderbird on the cover. Mark’s 1965 Thunderbird was his pride and joy, so I got him that magazine, which was only a dollar. I tucked it under my arm and headed to the next room.
Surprisingly, the room had wall-to-wall shelves brimming with china and glassware. Whoever owned Benson’s obviously collected Depression glass, based on the many shelves of green and yellow plates, glasses, and bowls. Prices were low, too—Depression glass pitchers for twelve dollars, bone china teacups and saucers for eight dollars.
Scouring the shelves for something special, I spotted a vintage pitcher and glasses with pink and red flowers. I’d seen a set like that once and coveted it, but it was sixty dollars—too much. Benson’s set was just twenty. Was something wrong with it? I ran my finger along the rims of the glasses and pitcher but found no flaws.
If only a “Benson” were there to take my money.
I wandered into the next room, which was packed with linens and kitchenwares. I’d never seen so many canister sets before—roosters, cows, mushrooms.
From the front of the house came the sound of the creaky front door opening, so I walked back up front hoping to find the owner.
There stood a large, black-haired woman with a bouffant hairstyle and eyes heavily rimmed in black liner. She wore a fuchsia and green maxi dress, and bangle bracelets clanged on both arms. She was balancing two giant Styrofoam cups as she tried to close the door with her hip.
“Let me help you,” I said, rushing over and closing the door.
“Thanks,” she said brightly. “Sorry I wasn’t here to welcome you, but I had to run to the store for some sweet tea. It’s so hot this morning, and nothing cools you off like sweet tea. You like tea?”
“Love it,” I said. “Had some on the way here.” I didn’t bother to explain that mine was hot chai.
“Good,” she said. “Then you won’t mind if I sip my tea while you look around.”
“Actually, I was ready to check out,” I said, “but please, go on and drink your tea.”
“B’lieve I will,” she said, taking a big slurp and fanning herself with an old copy of McCall’s before she began to write up my sales ticket.
Jackie—as she introduced herself—wanted to know where I was from, what I collected, and what I planned to do with her old tea pitcher. She’d been in the antiques business for decades and liked to make sure her merchandise went to good homes. She carefully wrapped my purchases in newspapers she’d been saving since President Reagan was in office.
When I thanked her and told her to have a nice day, she waved me off with a cheery “B’lieve I will.”
What a character, and what a fun day.
Mark walked down the driveway looking satisfied.
“What’s the verdict?”
“Should be back on in about—”
The hum of the electricity turning on reached our ears at the same moment.
“Want to head back inside?” Mark asked, holding the door.
I looked at my iced tea glass and decided it was time for a refill.
“B’lieve I will,” I said.