I’ve been sick for the last few days. That type of sick where in the middle of the night you kind of hope God decides to take you.
When I am really sick, I long for my parents. They were spectacular care givers during my childhood illness. I was prone to high fevers and my treatments consisted of a blend of Old World and New World treatments. My mom would rub me down with 4711 Eau de Cologne and put me in one of my dad’s undershirts in an attempt to cool me down. My dad would bring me popsicles on his way from work. Then he would sit by my bed, put a cold washcloth on my head, hold my hand and tell me “Mija, you’re going to be all right – you’re tough – keep your chin up”. It was his mantra that he would tell me whenever things got rough.
As I got older, the fevers disappeared but they were replaced by other maladies for which the treatment was always the same: Fix-me-up tea. The recipe was highly guarded by my father but basically it is a cup of brewed Lipton black tea with the juice of half a lemon and about 2 teaspoons of sugar. The result is a tea that is smooth and sweet and comforting but not too sweet because of the lemon juice. Headache?chills?stomach ache? broken heart or broken leg, the remedy was always the same.
I can’t figure out how my parents came to begin drinking it or even have Lipton tea in the house. Mexicans don’t drink tea and the French aren’t big on it either. This was the 70’s though, a culinary wasteland and Foldgers or Tang wouldn’t have had the same results. There was no Earl Grey or Rooboos or Sencha. If you wanted something warm it was only to be found in the red and yellow box with the sailor on it. And so for as far as I can remember, we have been drinking Fix-me-up tea, a name bestowed on it probably by my father who was fond of names and expressions .
Something could be called a doohiggy or a thingamijig. When he was content, he was “happier than a pig in slop” and if the answer was yes to a question, the response would be “does a fat dog fart?!”. Colorful expressions from an understated man.
Five years ago, my parents were in a car crash. My father died at the hospital and my mother was seriously injured. I stayed with her that night in her room. We were both in shock and pain. The nurse came around and asked her if she needed anything and she asked for the tea. By then, the kitchen was closed but the nurse went into her own purse for a packet of tea and we attempted to fix everything with the result. Of course it didn’t work, there was no lemon, it wasn’t Lipton and more than anything my father was gone.
In the years following, we attempted to replicate the tea. How long to brew the tea? Just how much sugar? As my mom became more ill in her last year, she only wanted Fix-me-up tea. She complained that the caregivers didn’t make it right so I would make big pitchers of it to be kept in a thermos. Eventually even the tea didn’t taste good anymore.
What I’ve learned is that you have to be generous with the sugar. Like life, the tea on its own can be bitter, add lemon and it’s even more so. You have to add so much sweetness that you cover all unpleasantness, create a balance and then add more to make things sweet and good.
Tonight, I sit with a cup of Fix-me-up tea. It doesn’t taste the same. I have had to use Lady Grey but it’s close. It has the same effect and I can hear my Dad telling me “to keep my chin up, it will all come out in the wash”.