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Holiday tea party gives taste of old-time flavor.

Byline: Sherri Buri McDonald The Register-Guard

What modern mother wouldn't welcome the chance to step back into a quieter, more civilized time, with no phones ringing, no mountains of laundry to fold, and no questions to answer except, "Would you like another cup?"

That was the appeal of the Mother's Day tea on Saturday afternoon at the Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House, that grand Victorian house at the base of Skinner Butte overlooking the Amtrak train station.

A squad of volunteers transformed the house's stately ground-floor dining room, parlor, sitting room and gallery into a series of tea rooms filled with 34 people, their lively conversation and the strains of a Celtic harp.

The crowd was predominately female - many of them mothers and daughters, as well as some granddaughters, including 15-month-old Hannah Henderson, who was gussied up in white patent leather shoes, and a floral party dress.

This being Hannah's third formal tea, her mom, Suzanne Henderson, remarked, "She's getting to be quite the little tea person."

Eugene resident Amy Singer, 36, who enjoyed sipping English Breakfast in the parlor with her husband, Jeff, and 4-year-old daughter Emily, said she had been wanting to come to the event for years. But when Mother's Day weekend rolled around, her family always seemed to have other obligations.

This time, she said, "I put in a very firm request," and Jeff was happy to oblige.

"I love tea and the whole tradition around it," said Singer, who's expecting a baby boy in late September. "We're hoping he'll have a taste for tea, as well."

In the sitting room, Sherry Simmons, of Eugene, shared a table with her daughter Anais, daughter-in-law Priscila Hasselman, and members of the "Tea Hens," an informal group of tea-loving friends that Simmons started five years ago while working at the district attorney's office.

"I got so sick of hearing of the bad side of life that I thought why not form a group that is very civilized and nurturing," Simmons said, adding that she welcomes every chance to "step out of the craziness of the 21st Century."

"I think I was alive in the 1800s," she said. "Everything I love is from the 19th Century. I feel very connected to that time."

Over the years, the Tea Hens have seen each other through life's highs and lows.

"We are a support group for each other," said Fran Threatt, 79 - called the "Queen Mum" of the group because she was the oldest member when it started.

"If anybody has a problem, we all do. It's just a great group of ladies and I'm grateful to be a member," she said.

Some of the servers also had fun stepping back in time on Saturday.

Jessica Coleman, a 13-year-old student at Ridgeline Montessori school, wore her great-grandmother's dress as she poured tea and served desserts.

The white cotton ankle-length dress, with elegant embroidery at the neck and the borders of the three-quarter sleeves, fit the petite girl perfectly.

Tea coordinator Ann Bullock said the house would welcome donations of Victorian-style dresses - original or replica - for the servers to wear. It's hard to find dresses that fit today's young women, who tend to be much taller and bustier than those of the late 1800s, Bullock said.

The city-owned Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House hosts the holiday teas three times a year, on Saturdays near Mother's Day, Christmas and Valentine's Day.

They are all-volunteer affairs, with proceeds from the $25-per-person event helping to maintain the house and keep it open to visitors, Bullock said.

The house also hosts private teas during the week for groups of eight to 10 people, at $15 per person, she said. For more information, contact the house at 484-0808, or online at smjhouse.org.

MOTHER'S DAY TOUR OF HISTORIC HOMES

Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House, built in 1888, will open its doors today, as part of the E. Skinner Butte Historic District annual tour of homes.

Where: 303 Willamette St.; Parking off Third Avenue and Pearl Street, or in front of the house at Fourth Avenue and Pearl Street.

When: Noon to 4 p.m.

Cost: Free.
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Title Annotation:General News; The Shelton-McMurphey-Johnson House offers the events near Mother's Day, Christmas and Valentine's Day
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 13, 2007
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