Jan and Hap Roth say lots of love, a little luck and a good dose of tolerance are the keys to a happy marriage.
So yesterday afternoon, as the couple celebrated their 35th anniversary, Hap Roth did not complain one bit about being far away from a television set as the Baltimore Orioles took on the New York Yankees. Instead, he cheerfully joined his wife in sipping tea from delicate china cups.
The couple, both 57, of Fallston, Md., were among the guests at a re-created 19th-century tea at Woodlawn, a historic redbrick mansion in the Alexandria section of Fairfax County. The mansion is the centerpiece of a plantation that George Washington carved out of his Mount Vernon holdings and bequeathed to his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and Lawrence's wife, Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Custis Lewis, who was Martha Washington's granddaughter.
For first timers such as the Roths -- and for a handful of regulars -- the lazy Sunday afternoon teas provide a welcome distraction from the grind of everyday life. Volunteers serve tea from sterling silver pots and bring around three-tiered trays stacked with goodies including tiny cucumber sandwiches, still-warm scones and poundcake. And there seems to be no talk of terrorism or politics.
"It really transports you back. Perhaps even if there was more work to do without all the modern conveniences, it was an easier time," Jan Roth said. "I was excited we had the table in front of the fireplace. I could pretend I was the lady of the house."
Stacey Hawkins, who hosts the teas and provides a bit of history for guests, said she tries to make the early-1800s teas as authentic as possible. The menu, which changes with the seasons, relies heavily on fresh fruits, including peaches, strawberries and figs, that once were grown on the plantation. Some of the refreshments, such as tomato on brown bread, are modeled on those served by Eleanor Lewis.
Hawkins, the plantation's weekend and event supervisor, admitted that she cheats on some details. She uses butter instead of lard and adds Miracle Whip to the cucumber sandwiches for "a bit of zing." Scones, she said, would not have been on Eleanor Lewis's table, but Hawkins includes them anyway because "a lot of people feel it isn't a tea without scones."
Sandra Osbourn, 64, of Glover Park and her daughter-in-law, Jennifer Hanna, said they find it easy to talk over tea. Something about the delicate cups and bite-size treats gives it a different atmosphere than the usual lunch or coffee date.
"It has a gracious feel to it," said Hanna, 34, of Hyattsville. "Nobody is talking loudly, and nobody is in a hurry."
The pair said the $25 price tag, which includes a guided tour of the mansion, was well worth it. Hanna joined the family about eight months ago, and she and her mother-in-law have decided to make teas a tradition.
"It's a very nice way to spend a Sunday," Osbourn said. "Then we'll go back to Glover Park and Hyattsville and the 21st century and CNN and reality."
Patti Beattie, 53, of Woodbridge said she's been to about four Woodlawn teas. She has a passion for history and likes to imagine what life was like in the mansion.
"I like the concept of things from the past, when things were a little more cultured and leisurely," Beattie said.
Even Hap Roth, who prefers coffee to tea any day, said yesterday afternoon was "very nice" and "more enjoyable than I expected." Plus, he added, just the day before, his wife accompanied him to a baseball exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History.