I care about the original meanings of words. Poet John Ciardi cared even more than I do. A random thing I recall from his book How Does a Poem Mean? is that a person alert to word derivations would never say that a ship “arrived” at an oil platform in the North Sea because “arrived” is from the Latin words “to shore” and a North Sea platform is not the shore.
My office window overlooks the location of the Boston Tea Party. So lately, I have watched the museum rising from the ashes of a fire that destroyed it years ago, and I have been thinking about original tea parties.
When I was little, I loved to use the visit of a friend as an occasion for a tea party in our large attic closet. My mother or a babysitter would make a pot of tea and very buttery cinnamon and sugar toast, and my friend and I would cart it all upstairs with the cups, saucers, spoons, sugar, napkins, and milk, and have a tea party by the glow of flashlights.
Then there is my feeling for the tea party in Alice in Wonderland. That is perhaps the most important tea party to me because, at age 10, I understudied Alice in a local production of the play, which had been adapted from the book by New York television director Binny Rabinowitz.
I think part of the reason I loved that experience so much was because Alice is a sensible little girl who tries hard to follow all the rules laid down for her, but she is surrounded by completely inconsistent, stubborn, unreliable, and unreasonable adults. In spite of the enormity of the task, she keeps trying to help these grownups make sense. I loved the tea party scene, in which my best friend, Carole, was the dormouse (“Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle … zzzz”). Today I’m thinking about the fact that, other than Alice herself, all the tea party participants were quite mad.
Quite, quite mad.