The day after school finally let out for the summer back in the ‘50s, my best friend Sally and I would bolt to her back yard and work on our tans. We’d lie on striped turkish towels, pale faces to the sun, our milky limbs anointed in baby oil laced with iodine.
No sooner had we lathered up when Sally’s mom, dear Mrs. Cumbler, would appear with plastic tumblers of her delicious iced tea. She would say, “You girls need to keep cool.”
Her recipe: steep six or seven Lipton tea bags plus 10 big stalks of fresh mint in boiling water for half an hour. Drain and add one can of frozen Minute Maid orange juice, a cup of sugar, lots of ice. Year after year, It was the liquid asset of my summer.
Mrs. Cumbler made her tea in a 14”-tall aluminum pitcher. My mom had an identical one. They loved going to flea markets together, especially in Bucks County, across the Delaware River from our adjoining homes in Titusville, New Jersey. Undoubtedly, they each bought pitchers there.
Mom knew l coveted her pitcher because, shortly after I was first married, she gave me hers. That pitcher has been in every home I’ve lived in since.
When my kids were young, I foisted Mrs. Cumbler’s tea recipe on them with some success. But my summer elixir never captured their fancy the way it had mine. They preferred grape Kool-Aid.
Over the years, my pitcher’s signature raison d’être changed too, and I’m not sure when or why. I probably went on yet another diet and decided sugar and orange juice weren’t beneficial to my growing waistline. And truthfully, I don’t even know if stores still sell Minute Maid frozen orange juice.
Today, that pitcher is a key tool in my gardening arsenal. I use it to mix Miracle-Gro All Purpose Plant Food with water for fertilizing my tomatoes, flower pots and hanging strawberry basket. Every two weeks they receive an enriching douse.
I keep the aluminum pitcher on my back deck near the hose or sometimes on the potting table next to my vegetable garden. The pitcher is dented and dinged, scratched and scarred, definitely showing signs of wear and tear, and age. Just like its owner.
That aluminum pitcher is as dear to me as mom’s tiger maple desk that sits in my guest room, and her daisy and button glass plate that I use for serving appetizers. It’s a treasured relic, a tangible stepping stone back to my girlhood when Sally and I were teenage pals.
Out of curiosity, I Googled “aluminum pitchers.” The e-commerce Etsy website featured a photo of a 15-inch aluminum pitcher similar to mine. The ad described it as “an item from the mid-1950s, a two-quart aluminum water pitcher with a shabby chic finish, selling for $22.”
Nope. Mine is priceless.