08 February 2007
Shopping from the Heart: Annie and the Jewel Tea Man
My grandmother always looked forward to visits from the Jewel Tea man, a door-to-door salesman who kept her supplied with everything from tea to dishes.
Jewel was founded in the waning years of the 19th century as a door-to-door venture that sold coffee. By 1902, the firm was called Jewel Tea Co. The business eventually acquired a grocery unit.
Jewel Tea Co seemed to sell everything else, too, from toys to clothing. It was Grandma Annie’s equivalent of television’s home shopping channels. The Jewel Tea man brought the world to Frenchtown.
Many of you collectors will undoubtedly recognize Jewel Tea as the purveyors of the Autumn Leaf china. Yes, Grandma Annie had that line of dishes. They now reside in my mother’s kitchen.
(I do not know where Annie got the three Depression Glass sherbet dishes in the photo. They were among the pie plates and dessert dishes and goblets that became mine when, sadly, the family home was sold after 125 years. The goblets are uneven in size, which suggests they may have been some sort of giveaway or premium and not purchased as a matched set. But, like Annie's Jewel Tea purchases, they are important reminders of her that are still used in my kitchen.)
Annie must have spent a bundle with Jewel Tea, buying gifts for everyone and many, many items for her kitchen. Perhaps the salesman found her an easy mark.
I prefer to think of her as a kind woman who wanted to do kind things for the people she loved.
My father was like that, too. In the later years of his life, he often bought trinkets from people. Was he an easy target or just too soft-hearted to turn someone away?
It matters not one bit to me.
I find, oddly, that my love and respect for my father and maternal grandmother grows and matures the older I get. Their little idiosyncrasies are endearing to me. It seems that they are with me still as I go about my kitchen, trying to perfect a technique or a dish.
A few nights ago, I had a dream that a sheaf of papers was found in Annie's home. Among them were copies of my first food articles, written more than 20 years after Annie's death.
"She's so proud of you," said the couple who bought the house and brought it into its third century.
Somehow, I felt she was.