Coffee In a China Cup


I remember three things about Marta:

1)      She was pear shaped with pregnancy when she moved in next door
2)      Accompanied by her Ukranian mother, her toddler and her household goods, she moved 1500 miles across the country while her husband stayed at his job to finish a project
3)      The priceless gift she gave me

A couple of days after baby Sara was born, Marta caught me at the mailbox. “You come for coffee and see Sara, “ she said in broken English. “You and friend next door, other side. Come tomorrow morning, ten o’clock.”

When we walked into the house the next morning, the smell of fresh coffee and something really delicious  beckoned us to the kitchen.  There we found Marta’s mother creating homemade pastries. She whisked the rolling pin over the dough, cut it into strips, gave each a twist and gently dropped them into hot oil. In no time at all they were golden brown and smelling of cinnamon. Her delicate pastries needed no words and her welcoming smile said it all.

After our introduction to Sara, who went immediately to sleep, we moved back to the sunlit kitchen. To my surprise, Marta brought out china plates, cups and saucers. The still warm pastries, now sprinkled with powdered sugar, filled a basket lined with a colorful tea towel.

As I sipped my coffee from the china cup, it registered with me that this was a first - I had never been served on china before.  I felt like royalty. What began as an invitation to “drop by and see the baby” ended up being a wonderful hour spent with Marta and her mother.  Language was a bit of a problem, but we stumbled and laughed our way through it and had fun in the process.

This is many years later. I can’t recall a single thing about Marta’s house – furniture, paint colors, decorations – none of it. I wouldn’t recognize her if we met on the street. But I will never forget how she and her mother made me feel that day.

Marta and Sara were the reason we went, but we were treated as the guests of honor. Marta had made a major move, set up housekeeping and  had a baby without help from her husband. Yet, she took time to reach out to two younger women, one single, one married and extended graciousness to us. She and her mother made us feel  welcome and special.

Marta introduced me to what hospitality is all about.  It wasn’t just the good dishes and homemade pastries. It was how she and her mother  reached beyond self to care about someone else on a personal level.  Marta opened the door to her home – packing boxes and all – and her heart.

She had no idea how she shaped my perceptions of graciousness and hospitality; no clue that she defined what it means for me to ‘have people over;’ or that she created in me the desire to use food as a way of saying, “I care about you.”  Which in turn, unleashed a passion for cooking.  All this from homemade pastries and coffee in a china cup.