This is what it means to be an ally.
I had visited the Hawthorn Tea Room many times before, with family or friends. The food was always delicious, the service delightful, and the atmosphere peaceful yet joyous. I wasn’t a regular, but I was recognized by the two ladies who ran the quaint little restaurant near the Tacoma waterfront. This day, however, was different than any other time I had come in before. This time I was on a date. My first date since the two awkward half-dates long ago in high school. My first meaningful date.
My first date with another woman. Someone I was already falling for. Hard.
I was nervous for a hundred different reasons that day, but one that came to the forefront of my mind as Chriselle and I entered the cheery yellow building and were ushered to a table was… how would we be treated? I had always enjoyed my time at the tea room; Cathy and Allison were bubbly and attentive, fussing over their customers much like mothers or favorite aunts. But I didn’t know them personally; what if they didn’t approve of us? After all, with the nervous, shy smiles we kept sneaking at each other, it must have been pretty clear we were on a date.
I need never have doubted them. From our very first visit, they treated Chriselle and myself like family. And, more importantly, they treated us like a couple. From the very first visit we felt welcome, wanted, and liked – not only as individuals, but as partners. There were no awkward questions or assumptions, just an air of easy acceptance I can only assume is normal for, and therefore unappreciated by, every straight couple.
We quickly started a tradition of visiting the tea room on the monthiversary of the day we made things “official”, and have continued this tradition for the eighteen months we have currently been together. It’s the highlight of our month, and serves not only as a celebration of our relationship but also as a chance to see two people who have become so important to us. We especially enjoy making reservations late in the afternoon, when we’ll be the only patrons and can linger after closing time chatting with the ladies and trading stories of crazy family and beloved pets.
In short, the Hawthorn Tea Room was the first place where I felt truly accepted as a queer woman, and the first place where I felt my relationship with the love of my life was celebrated and encouraged. For that, and for so much more, I am forever indebted to Cathy and Allison. I know they didn’t set out to be “allies”; they were simply treating us as people, as customers, as friends. As family, even. But that’s the point. You can be an ally without realizing it. You can make a lasting difference in someone’s life just by treating them with dignity and respect. It truly is that simple, and that important.
We found out a few days ago that the tea room has been sold and will be closed until it reopens under the new owners. Our December visit, to celebrate our year and a half anniversary, was our last visit. To be honest, I’m rather heartbroken. I had never imagined a time without the tea room, except when Chriselle and I joked about buying it ourselves. My feelings right now are understandably conflicted. I’m happy the ladies are retiring to spend time with family and I’m grateful for the time we did have with them. But I’m also so sad those times have come to an end so soon. I don’t deal with change well, and this is a hard change to swallow. It’s only now that I realize just how necessary this place was in teaching me the world can be a safe, accepting place for people like us.
Cathy and Allison, you will always be family to us. You brought us joy and fed our souls, not just our stomachs. I wish you the very best in your future endeavors, though I hope you know you’ll have to come out of retirement just once… for our wedding.
Thank you. For everything.