Thursday, July 23, 2009
Jeanne McGeehan Cella's Iced Tea
I’m named for my Aunt Jeanne. She will be ninety in October, my mother’s youngest sister. Virginia and Jeanne McGeehan were “Irish twins,” born less than a year apart, in 1918 and 1919. The youngest daughters in a family of six children, they grew up loving each other and were devoted sisters until my mother’s death at age eighty-three in 2002. It’s been sad for us, not having our own mother anymore, but whenever we hear Aunt Jeanne speak, we hear a bit of our mother in her voice. I love that. They were very much alike. Aunt Jeanne is a lovely and gracious lady. She lives in a pretty red house with a beautiful yard with gorgeous flower gardens (tended by son Jim) in Danbury, CT. You’d never guess she’s almost ninety – she is fit and sharp and until recently, when she was feeling better, consistently did one hundred sit ups a day! She has never driven a car, and I believe one of the reasons she’s so fit is due to the walking she’s done all her life. Aunt Jeanne’s been having physical challenges lately, with back problems that make navigating a little bit difficult right now. She received a good report from the doctor yesterday, though, and her back is on the mend.
Aunt Jeanne is a very special lady, and she is my Godmother, a role that seemed to carry more significance when she was given the honor a generation ago. Her husband, Uncle Eddie, passed away almost twenty-five years ago, and was my Godfather. They were a devoted couple, and she still wears her wedding and unique engagement ring, a beautiful pearl. When I was married, it could get confusing when we’d visit them at their home in Danbury: Jeannie and Gene Eddy visiting Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Eddie! Maybe that’s why we didn’t name a son “junior” – it would have only added to the confusion! The parents of eight children, six sons and two daughters, Jeanne and Eddie did a great job. They raised fun-loving, intelligent, and caring kids (who grew up to be terrific adults), and with my parents’ seven children, the only families we could visit and tolerate the crowd were each other! They used the same names for their kids, too. Both families have a Michael, a Jeanne, and a Virginia! (Back then, children’s names weren’t exclusive within a family!)
To this day, as cousins we maintain close relationships despite being raised hundreds of miles apart. The Cella kids were raised in New Rochelle, NY, where my Mom grew up, and we were raised, for the most part, in Saratoga Springs. For the summer, we’d “trade” kids for weeks at a time. Steven would go there and Ginna would come here. Anne would go there, and Jim would come here. It was something we always looked forward to and some of our happiest memories are of summers spent with our cousins. Last summer we had an O’Farrell/Cella/McGeehan family reunion at my sister Anne’s house in Saratoga Springs, and most of the Cella “kids” (as well as McGeehan and McCormick cousins) along with their kids and Aunt Jeanne were able to make it. It was over too soon, though we have happy memories and photos of that special day.
Aunt Jeanne has always made the best iced tea. At the beach house in North Carolina last summer, I tried to duplicate it every day. If I’m in a restaurant and order iced tea, I always measure it by Aunt Jeanne’s. Most don’t match it, but once in a while, I take a sip, and I am transported back to her kitchen on Elm Street. There I am, my seven-year old chin resting on the cool surface of her enamel-topped table, the one with the silverware drawer, watching her scurry around to feed her family and the surplus kids from ours.
I called Aunt Jeanne yesterday morning to say hello, see how she’s feeling, and to ask for her iced tea recipe. She said she doesn’t make it much any more because no one wants the sugar she puts in it. Well, I want her iced tea, sugar or not! It was so good to talk with her. I'm looking forward to a road trip to Danbury soon, to spend some time with this lovely lady.
Aunt Jeanne’s Iced Tea:
Place a pot of water on the stove.
Add six teabags.
Bring to a boil and turn off the heat.
Leave it for an hour or so.
Pour it into a pitcher.
SQUEEZE the tea bags to get every last drop (she emphasized that)
Stir in 3 scoops sugar
Add cold water to fill the pitcher.
Add a couple slices of lemon.
With love, I raise my iced tea glass to you, Aunt Jeanne!