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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2007

Club celebrates femininity over a cup of tea

Ordinarily, Florence Oberle of Grand Rapids, Ohio, is more interested in pinning a freshly picked rose from her garden to her lapel than she is in decorating her attire with a sparkling rhinestone broach.

But as much as she is a traditionalist, Florence is also flexible. So when Linda Pudlik pinned the sparkling broach to Florence's pastel pink blouse, she accepted it graciously and with a thank-you as warm as the 93-degree temperature. The pinning ceremony, appropriately done in Florence's rose garden, officially welcomed the 92-year-old Grand Rapids hostess as a member of the AnTEAquers of Michigan.

If this sounds a little hokey, stand by to learn more about this unusual group of women who hail from Farmington Hills and other metro Detroit cities and other southern Michigan communities.

Ms. Pudlik organized the group 10 years ago.

Florence Oberle, left, and Linda Pudlik at the AnTEAquers
meeting at Mrs. Oberle s Grand Rapids home. Florence Oberle, left, and Linda Pudlik at the AnTEAquers meeting at Mrs. Oberle s Grand Rapids home.
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Dressed in a full-length butterscotch chiffon gown, a flower-bedecked wide-brimmed straw hat, and lots of rhinestone jewelry, Ms. Pudlik was dressed to the nines as an AnTEAquer. She explained the purpose of the group as "being in harmony as women." That's where the rhinestone pins come in. Members are encouraged to wear rhinestone jewelry before 5 p.m.- in other words, to dress in a feminine way.

I have said before in this column that dresses are back in fashion, and that has been true with the AnTEAquers since their first outing in 1997. Although they usually gather in the afternoon, they dress elegantly, and that of course means complete with lovely hats.

They do not want to be associated with the Red Hat Society, and Ms. Pudlik is the first to tell you that her group was organized before the Red Hat groups were in her area.

She added that she knew they were being recognized as a "ladylike" group at lunch at LaRoe's in downtown Grand Rapids when the tables were dressed in "crisp white linens."

When a woman is well-dressed and chooses a lovely hat to complement her dress, the next step to being a woman in harmony is at the tea table, the group believes.

And that's what brought the AnTEAquers to Grand Rapids for tea and dessert at Ms. Oberle's charming green bungalow encircled with roses and colorful perennials. The gardens are open to the public this summer.

The tea ladies brought an appropriate hostess gift for the gardens - teaspoon hostas, which are miniatures.

On the monthly outings the women shop and have lunch, but the afternoon focus is always the place that Ms. Pudlik has chosen for tea. It began as a small group of Victorian-inspired women who enjoyed the interlude of celebrating afternoon tea, and the pleasure of finding tearooms and antique stores at the same destination.

Over tea, discussions are stimulating and reflect the mission statement; "Everyone has something to offer. Let's strive to bring out the best in every one of us." Ms. Pudlik says that because of the varied interests among members they learn from each other.

"So far we have never been to the same place for tea twice," she said. She mentioned Sweet Shalom in Sylvania as one tearoom the group has enjoyed, but their tea tastings are not confined to the tri-state area. "In London we had high tea at Harrods and at the Ritz," Ms. Pudlik said to prove just how far they travel for a pot of good hot tea.

Ms. Oberle selected Indian Spice Chai as the tea to serve with wide slices of homemade Butterscotch Nut Torte and homemade ice cream. That Ms. Pudlik had three cups of the tea was the ultimate compliment.

She is a tea connoisseur who traces her tea-drinking back to childhood in Farmington Hills when her mother always served tea and popcorn on stormy nights or just as a family treat. For her own family, tea was an honored beverage. Each child had his own teapot and a choice of flavors.

When one son married, he asked if he could have his teapot. At his new home it is displayed as a shrine, Ms. Pudlik said.



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