When I was living with my parents my father would make me tea in the morning. He’d ask if I would like nutmeg in it the way he took his. I’d always say yes and then, because I had always assumed them similar – even complimentary, I would ask him to add cinnamon as well.
My father’s head would jerk towards me. “No ” he’d say with a touch of indignation. “You can’t have both.” His tone implying a sort of obvious knowledge about these two spices I was meant to have already developed.
I’d chirp back, telling him I wanted only the nutmeg then because no matter how many times I had the spice I still couldn’t describe it, so every taste was a fruitless search for the words to describe its taste. Also, my father took nutmeg in his own tea, and I was pleasantly happy to follow suit. He’d reach for the glass vial that contained the whole nutmeg and the small grater he kept nearby in a little bowl all its own. He’d shave a few strokes of the small fragrant spice into both of our teas. The little grated flecks would float on the surface, full of tension, never fully mixing into the hot liquid no matter how vigorously you stirred it. When you drink tea made this way, it's the nutmeg you always smell first.
When I am home with my father, and he asks me to make tea, I brew it until it’s impossibly strong but never bitter. Then I add the cream and sugar I know he likes so much, even under the judging eyes of my mother, until it reaches a creamy tan color I know to be right. I add the sugar and take a sip to see if it is sweet enough. He likes his black tea with cream and a little sugar, but always less sugar than I remember, so mostly I make his tea too sweet but even if he comments on this, I am never made to take it back to fix.
My father and I are the only two who use nutmeg in my house. Solidarity is shared over this spice. I know to reach for the vile of whole nutmeg from the corner of the counter near the front left of the stove, tucked near the canisters of wooden spoons where it has always been stored since we’ve lived in this house. I am careful to select a piece that isn’t too small, but never whole. I never felt comfortable being the first to grate a new nutmeg. It always seemed to be the responsibility of my father and I am content to keep it that way. I grate the tiny nut until the whole top layer of the tea was covered with a fragrant dusting of spice and bring it to my father. He tastes the tea, murmurs that it was “nice”— the ultimate approval — and says thank you as he settles himself to sit a bit taller in his seat. Then he tells me to bring my own tea to come sit next to him as he listens to the radio on the front porch. I bring my tea made in the same way, with less nutmeg, and only a tiny bit more sugar and sit next to him to listen to public radio, gossiping about the hosts, or a story and I think to myself as I sip my tea, how nice things are when they come full circle.