The Ladies' Tea Guild

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 is up and running, and the 2017 Cat Rescue Tea Fundraiser was a success!

Alexander Hamilton vs. Aaron Burr (1804), from a painting
by J. Mund ca. 1904.  Wikimedia Commons.
Hello everyone!  I hope you've found a lot to be thankful for in this new year!

I am one of those people who didn't have high hopes for the outcome of the recent U.S. presidential election (no matter who won), and I am also thoroughly sickened by the way Americans have turned on one another with the arrogance, entitlement (as if one candidate or the other -- and their ardent supporters -- "owned" the votes of all decent people), snobbery, and elitism that has been (to some extent) hiding under the surface of public life for decades. It is not the fault of one candidate or the other that these things have come to the surface -- it is the fault of the American people (in general) who are so wrapped up in our own likes and dislikes, needs and wishes, that we can't see that other human beings feel and think differently, and are no less decent or respectable for having different values.  Over many years, the American people -- of all political parties -- have thrown decency, neighborliness, and good citizenship out the window, and brought the political life of this country to this place.  It reminds me a lot of the state of political life at the founding of the United States, where political enemies ended their disagreements in pistol duels!

Since I believe that individual Americans have influenced each other in putting political ideals and goals above the needs of others (especially those who hold different opinions), I believe that the way out of this mess needs to start with the individual American.  This is not about ignoring reality and going back into our own personal "bubble", but it is about resisting the very real urge to "go with the flow" and bully others, under the name of "political discourse" or whatever the media are calling it.  A lot of good things have been happening, which have successfully brought together people of different political opinions and social values!

Bowman Mansion.
Photo by Joanne Santner.
After a hiatus of a year (in which one of the main planners of the tea fought cancer and survived!), we held the 2017 Cat Rescue Tea Fundraiser on February 4th and 5th, in the beautiful Bowman Mansion in downtown San Jose.  As in previous years, we sold out all of the tickets in advance, and many of them were the higher-priced "VIP" tickets which entitled the purchaser to enter the house 30 minutes early and look at the silent auction and raffle prizes, as well as have a glass of champagne.  Our menu has changed only slightly over the years, and it includes 12 separate items on each plate; instead of ordering from the menu, each person gets some of everything on it!

My friend Christina and I, with some of the other volunteers.
Photo: Lance Shoemaker.
This year I made all the lemon curd, coordinated the donation of the tea we would serve, donated some tea items to the raffle, set up and packed away all the teapots and hot water urns, and made most of the tea that we served (I did have an assistant who made the herbal tea).  We had our usual army of fellow volunteers, and as usual, we were really tired and sore by the end of the weekend, but it was a great experience.  I love working on big parties like this, in the old Victorian houses, because we put the servants' quarters back into use (as much as we can) and it's nice to have separate areas to keep supplies, make the sandwiches and plate the food, and make the tea.  I always think about the staff who regularly worked in these areas back in the 19th century, and I estimate that the homeowners would have had a much smaller daily staff, and hired extra people in, to help with the big events, because the servants' quarters are pretty crowded with 20+ people in there!  I took a quick walk through the house (didn't take many pictures, though!) and this is what it's like:
A view through the servants' hall, from the
foyer, to the back stairs and kitchen.
Photo: Joanne Santner.

The Bowman Mansion has a main kitchen with a small porch off the back and a servants' bathroom, a swinging door on one side that opens into a tiny hall and into the dining room, and another swinging door that opens into the narrow servants' hall (just a passage-way, not a room, like in Downton Abbey).  In the tiny hall between the kitchen and dining room, there is an oddly-shaped door (under the servants'/back staircase) that opens onto a narrow staircase going down into the basement.  In the servants' hall there is a doorway into the housekeeper's room (which is about as big as the kitchen), and there is the back staircase, which is steep and narrow, and not at all like the ornamental one at the front of the house.  The servants' hall has its own swinging door that closes it off from the large foyer, parlors, and dining room.  At the back of the dining room, running along its width, is what was probably once the butler's pantry (now made into a bathroom and storage room), which has two swinging doors, one on either side of the dining room.  You can always tell the servants' areas by the presence of swinging doors (without a doorknob), so that the staff could go through them with arms full of things.  The exterior doors, of course, all have knobs and locks!  The back staircase and servants' hall provided a bit of space where we could sit and rest our feet for a few minutes here and there, and listen to the crowd at tea.

Ornamental front staircase.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Going up the back staircase, you find yourself at the back of the second-floor hall, near a small bathroom, and a smaller room in a corner, which looks like it used to be a telephone room, or maybe a trunk/luggage storage room (before telephones were available).  There is a big chair and a small telephone shelf in there now.  Going down the hall towards the front of the house, you come to maybe 5 other bedrooms (I forgot to count), and I believe that some of them have been remodeled to put a bathroom in the room (I forgot to look, this time around!), in the old walk-in closets.  The second floor also connects to the downstairs area by a beautiful ornamental staircase with carved paneling and other woodwork, and a stained-glass window where it turns halfway down.

Volunteers making tea sandwiches in the housekeeper's room,
now a TV room for the homeowners.
Photo: Miranda Von Stockhausen.
Also in the second-floor hall is a small doorway, behind which is another narrow, steep, servants' staircase which leads to the 3rd floor, under the eaves of the roof.  The current homeowners have called this floor "the ballroom" because it is currently one huge space with almost no walls, but because of the low ceilings, and the narrow staircase access, it would not have been a place where any guests would have gone in the 19th and early 20th century!  It was probably the servants' bedrooms, and more storage space, although no walls remain separating servants' sleeping areas and the family storage areas.  Still an interesting space!

2017 Cat Rescue Tea place setting.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
The guests can walk through most of the house in between eating and drinking, and looking at the raffle and silent auction items (they can't go up to the 3rd floor, or down into the basement), and they always seem to enjoy the event.  This year, we broke our previous fundraising record, and raised about $14,000 for 13th Street Cats!  That money will be used to pay for medical costs for the current cats they're fostering, as well as the medical costs for new cats they take in, and they also occasionally pay for medical care for cats, whose owners are not members of 13th Street Cats!  There are no paid staff members for this organization, and they are very particular about the care of their cats, so this money will be spent on high-quality care and supplies for the cats; without the fundraiser, all the costs would have to come out of the volunteers' own pockets!  Supporters of 13th Street Cats have a variety of political and social views and opinions -- so we don't discuss politics when we meet -- but everyone I've met and worked with is a wonderful human being, and it's a relief to come together with so many diverse people in order to support a cause that we share.

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Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)