Tea and Biscuit Diplomats

Even if sheltering-in-place relaxed global standards for proper communication via phone and video conferencing, society chooses to abide by standards of decorum out of respect for one another, and rightly so. We arrive on time, minimize distractions; we don’t mess with our hair, and we certainly don’t speak with our mouths full. Mostly.


I just got off the phone with Daughter Cierra, who munched and chatted around her mouthful of breakfast while we discussed skin products, college finals, and violin lessons—an absolute phone etiquette faux pax—and one that has become a ritual. Though professional with any other conversation, the women of my family subscribe to an otherwise baneful manner amongst ourselves. We grant one another a pass for eating, knowing we’ll more often have to say, “Pardon me?” Eating while on the phone has become our secret code for a “situation” shared at its most companionable. 

“Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly.”

-George MacDonald

My sisters and I grew up in the southwest corner of Colorado in an old adobe house where our mama still lives after fifty years, even after Daddy passed away. She continues to live close to the earth and can outwork many a young ranch hand, maybe several. Mama farms the old homestead with unrelenting faith and determination, harvesting a yearly bounty of grass-fed meats, grains, fruit, and garden produce. The sunny kitchen is a warm and delicious place because something is always simmering or baking…and Mama is there. With strong hands but fine manners Mama knows the necessity of a fresh baked scone on a pretty napkin and a cup of tea—in the company of a friend.

When we were children and arrived home on the bus after school, we knew Mama would stop whatever she was doing and have a little party waiting. We were her friends, you see. She’d set a table with fresh cut flowers placed on an heirloom doily. The tea kettle burbled. There she waited to welcome us, ready to sit and to listen to each one of our days’ activities. We visited with our mouths full and tummies comforted as the sunbeams stretched long, until it was time for homework and outside chores. 

Sitting across the table is best, but now that we live scattered across the country: Debbie in Tennessee, DiAnna in Florida, Cierra in Maryland and me in Montana, we visit long distance over our cups and a snack. If we hadn’t planned to nibble, we might decide to do so after discovering who is calling. My three closest friends have been granted their own sister munching rights as well. While chatting around a cookie or biscuit, we’ve stopped office wars, planned gardens, rewritten resumes, embarked on university programs, yelled over crying children, patched up hurts, edited books, listened to concert pieces and the chime of a grandfather clock. We’ve potty trained, ranted, prayed, exited freeways, arranged wedding flowers, invested in IRA’s, renovated bathrooms, grieved the lost, decorated cakes, healed marriages, made confessions, dreamed, and sailed around the globe. 

All other phone calls must be kept at a manageable length and executed with utmost care, but when a sister, daughter, girlfriend, or mama calls, we grant each as much time and grace as needed because life is meant to be shared in one another’s kitchens. We put on a tea kettle (or go through a drive through) and reach for a cup and a napkin. We chew as delicately as possible so that we might hear the voices that are dear and to sip the goodness of holding one another close, no matter the miles between us.