Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tea party talk -- not the political kind

I can't imagine why this popped into my head today, but how many of you remember the Jewel Tea Company? When my children were small and we lived in East Texas, the Jewel Tea man came around every couple of weeks to sell baking mixes, household cleaners, and any number of other items. If I placed an order on one visit, he'd bring the products on his next visit, and I'd pay him when he delivered -- usually.

The only pocket money I had in those days was the little bit I earned typing transcripts for a court reporter friend while my babies napped. My name wasn't on my husband's checking account. Even our groceries were charged and paid by him once a month. So if I'd placed a Jewel Tea order, I had to make sure to have the money ready on delivery day.

One day, when Kim was about two and a half, I was playing with her in the living room while Kelli, about six months old, napped at the other end of the house. I happened to glance out the window just in time to see the Jewel Tea man turn his car into our driveway. He was a couple of days early. I knew I didn't have any money. It flashed through my mind that he'd tried to make a delivery one day a few months earlier when I wasn't home. On that occasion he'd left the items at the back door and had come back the next day to be paid. I quickly decided that's what I wanted to happen this time.

I grabbed Kim around her waist and ran with her to the back bedroom, whispering to her all the way to be quiet. "We're playing a game," I told her. "In just a second someone is gonna knock on the door, and we're gonna pretend we aren't home, okay? Just be very, very, very quiet."

We waited for the knock, and it came. Kim looked at me expectantly, and I winked at her and smiled, putting my finger to my lips to remind her to be quiet. There was a second knock at the door, and that time Kim looked at me and grinned. She was getting into the game. Just when I thought the Jewel Tea man had given up and gone away, I heard the door open. I was shocked, and Kim's eyes got huge. I clapped one hand over my own mouth and one over hers as we waited to hear what would happen. We both listened intently as the man made his way to the kitchen, set our packages on the table, then opened the door again and left. We listened for his car to start, then waited a little while longer to be sure he had driven away.

I carried Kim back into the living room so we wouldn't wake the baby, then I set her down and gave a medium loud whoop.  "Wasn't that fun?" I asked. "We'll have to play that game again sometime."  The two of us had a good laugh together.  We didn't say one word about who had been at the door

So much drama, I thought, but it was worth it. The Jewel Tea man would come back tomorrow, I'd have the money and apologize for missing him, and everything would be back to normal.

A few hours later, while I was bending over Kelli's crib changing her diaper, there was another rap at the door.   I couldn't stop what I was doing, and before I could think what to do, Kim ran to the door and threw it open.  I heard her say in a loud, cheerful tone, her words articulated clearly and precisely, "We hided from you in the bedroom this morning."

"You did?" asked the Jewel Tea man.

"Uh-huh, we sure did."

I could have died.

I still don't know whether Kim saw the tea man's car out the window when I picked her up to run, or if she put two and two together when she saw the things he'd left on the kitchen table.  I'd always known she was a smart little cookie, but I'd apparently underestimated her that day.

There was nothing I could do but face the music.  Holding the freshly changed baby in my arms, I walked back into the living room and pretended I hadn't heard a thing. So did the Jewel Tea man, bless his heart. I smiled and told him I was sorry I'd missed him earlier in the day, that I appreciated his leaving the items I'd ordered, and that I hadn't expected him so soon and didn't have the money ready to pay him.

He was very nice about it. He said he'd come early because he was going out of town, and that if I wanted to place an order, I could pay him for that day's delivery when I paid for the next one.  He let me off the hook.

Would you be surprised to know I ordered lots of stuff that day?  Lots and lots and lots of stuff.


  1. I remember the Jewel Tea Company. My mom didn't order much, but it was a treat to have him visit.

    Your post reminded me for the first time in decades of the Jewel Tea Company.

  2. What a sweet story. Little ones in my family never could keep secrets either!

  3. We didn't have Jewel Tea but did have the Watkins Man and also a bakery company for breads, cakes and cookies. I miss those conveniences and actually wouldn't be surprised if some enterprising soul didn't start them or something similar up again now that us baby boomers are retiring and aren't out and about so much.

  4. Lucylocket, I hadn't thought of them in years, either. Isn't it odd how some little thing from the distant past will suddenly pop up in your mind for no reason at all?

    Holly, I knew better than to trust a two-year-old with a secret; I just didn't think she knew who we'd hidden from.

    Val, I think you're right that this type of business could become popular again. In fact, way back in the 1950s my grandmother could call in an order to the neighborhood grocery store and they'd deliver it a couple of hours later. I'm sure they still do this in certain parts of the country, but there's nothing like that around here. Wouldn't it be great if, instead of making a grocery list to take to the store, we could select items from a list on a store's website and have it all delivered? I know there are already places online where one can order groceries, but I'm talking about something on a wide scale, where the goods are coming from across town and fresh foods could be included.

  5. Love this story!

    I never heard of the Jewel Tea company, but it sounds great! I agree, they should bring back this business. If Avon can keep doing it, so can other companies.

    I do remember the milkman-mostly for his habit of leaving the back gate open, so I'd have to leave my cereal to run up the street after the dog who was delighted at being let loose and didn't want to come home. But I'd love for the milkman to come back-I remember reading that a small dairy makes deliveries in New York, I think. It would save me from having to go to the store every few days for more milk.

  6. Could you help me in English? I'm going to make a video in English and I need check my text in English. I don't speak English everyday. So, will you help me? :)


  7. Janet, I could picture you chasing the dog, and in my imaginary picture, the dog was racing along behind the milkman. Should have been a Norman Rockwell cover.

    Kim_Inept, I see that someone has already responded to your request for help. If you're for real, good luck.

  8. I had the Jewel Tea Man in New Jersey. Their strawberry jam was delicious!

  9. It's been a while since you made this post; however, I had to make a comment. My father was a Jewel Tea Man. He loved the friendliness of all the people on his route. Many's the time I'd hear him talking with my mother about an account who was having trouble making their payments. He was always willing to give them credit. I also remember the Helm's man who had the bakery truck - cream puffs!!!! Several large grocery stores offer purchasing on-line with delivery either that day or the next. Unfortunately, the price reflects that service and someone on a fixed income probably wouldn't be able to afford the service. I found that I needed to go to the store particularly for the produce - need to feel, touch, smell.

    Lovely thinking about my Dad, it's been a long time.

  10. Ruth, thanks so much for taking the time to tell us about your father, the Jewel Tea Man. I love how the Internet connects us all in ways we'd never imagine.


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