When you arrive as an ESL teacher, it’s considered good manners to bring gifts for your principal, vice principal, and co-teacher.
Andrea and I thought carefully about what to bring as gifts, and eventually I selected honey for my principal and two mini confectionaries of maple sugar candies with a tiny jug of maple syrup for my vice principal and co-teacher.
Of course when I arrived, it was revealed that I had two co-teachers.
I like to blame the jetlag, but I failed at foresight and gave my co-teachers each one of the maple boxes instead of one to share between them and saving one for the vice principal. Not wanting to insult him (because it would have been ludicrously insulting), I had to think quick about what I could give him.
Ultimately I sacrificed a thick stack of my favourite tea from home: white chai. It being one of the few resources I’d taken with me as a comfort item, I was desperately concerned that he wouldn’t enjoy it and that I might have banished this lovely tea to unappreciative shores…but such was the price I accepted I must pay for otherwise appearing rude.
Possibly because of this concern, I had a lingering paranoia that I hadn’t brought the right kind of gifts/that I’d kinda fucked up. After all my principal had looked sort of “meh” about his honey…
And one day I saw these fears validated. In the cupboard under the sink in the staffroom, I saw the honey half-finished behind some cardboard boxes of tea. My heart sank. I was so sure it would be good honey! It was from Quebec – I’d bought it from the Brome County Fair, and it was made with the wildflowers of a bee farm in the country. I’d made sure to tell him all this, but here it was, months later and neglected.
I sighed, closed the cupboard door, and decided to just pretend I’d never seen.
Weeks later – chronologically only a few days ago – I was sitting in the staffroom with a bunch of other coworkers when the secretary took out the honey jar. My heart was skeptical, but a ray of hope shone dimly: maybe he liked it after all – but then again, maybe she just ran out of other honey. …But the jar did look a lot emptier than before.
Then she asked me something: my co-teacher translated, “She wants to know if you would like some honey tea.”
I said yes, never having had it, but never one to say no to both food experimentation and people making me delicious-sounding things.
Five minutes later I was drinking the most delectable drink I’d possibly ever had: literally just hot water and honey, this honey tea rocked my world six ways to Sunday. Sweet, yet not achingly so: if you could turn the late August air into liquid form and taste the first wafts Autumn’s dying leaves, that would be it. All I can say is that Quebec wildflower honey is the shit, and if you see Pettigrew’s brand anywhere, buy it.
To make the moment even sweeter, as I was sipping this nostalgic brew (nostalgic for the Montreal fall season that is) the secretary said something else to me. Translated: “I always use this honey to make tea for the principal. It’s his special drink.”
And so I happily savoured my tea for three times as long as everyone else she’d made it for and vowed never to eat anything again so I could keep that taste on my tongue forever. (That lasted until dinnertime, at least).
The tragedy of it was she’d used the last of the honey. And now that I’d discovered the taste of it, it was gone forever.
I suppose such is life: you only realize what’s good til it’s gone. Oh, honey tea…