By Lorraine Gibson-Alcock
August 18th … As dawn broke on Moira Lake, the day was overcast and the skies were threatening to unleash another downpour. I wondered if there was an alternate rain day. As noon approached, then 1 o’clock, the sky suddenly cleared, and the sun shone once more. “Good,” I thought, “the Gods have uttered once again … Nothing is going to hinder Judy’s Annual Tea Party”! A special one this year … the 25th!
I first met Judy Tunnicliff last fall when we were working the advanced polls in Stirling for the Ontario Provincial election. As time sometimes drags while waiting for voters to come through the door, we filled the non-busy time chatting.
One day Judy brought in a few binders with pictures. I assumed as I opened to view what I thought was going to be multiple pictures of her kids and grandkids “here is a doting Grandma”. I was wrong and right. Her photos were not Tunnicliff kids or grandkids, but nevertheless she cherished each and every one of those children as if they were her own.
Judy and Tom Tunnicliff came to Madoc one summer more than 35 years ago to visit friends on Moira Lake and fell in love with the area. Shortly after their first visit they bought their lake property and continued to make lifelong friends. Twenty-two years ago they retired from the Big Smoke (East York) and moved lock stock and barrel to Madoc. In the meantime, three years before making their big move, she noticed that the new friends they had made in Madoc and area were starting to have grandchildren. Judy, being Judy, wanting to show her affection and appreciation, decided that the best way to do this was to host a “tea party” for her many friends’ grandchildren.
The first party had eight kids … all from friends and family. But this was not a common, every day “tea party”. Oh No! No! - Judy and her husband Tom had arranged a truly magical event. Friends’ closets and thrift stores had been scavenged for “tea dresses”, and any other necessary accessory needed so that these children, almost all girls, would have a special day and a memory to last a lifetime. To date, only one boy has ever crossed the lake cottage threshold, a little boy about one year-old, by the name of Darcy (who became Darlene for the afternoon). This young man has since graduated from college, and is apparently quite proud of his Auntie Judy and his “tea party” presence.
Well fast forward to 25 years later, and the tea party is now part of the Moira Lake summer social scene and all look forward to the annual event. It has become quite an extravaganza with the Tunnicliff’s working full out for at least a couple of weeks beforehand to complete the necessary set up. Guest invitations are sent; tables, umbrellas, and extra seating are set up. Decorations including tea cups dress up the local bushes and trees – just to name a few of their activities. … The combined effect is reminiscent of the “Alice through the Looking Glass” type of tea parties.
Over the years, the party has now become an almost week-long event. All the attendees, little girls, young ladies, and some mothers stop by the “Cottage Tea Party Shoppe” during the week before the official tea party day to “shop” for their ensemble. The Tunnicliff’s have a full “shoppe” set up on their property, complete with clothing racks filled with dresses to suit every age, and tables laden with hats, scarves, handbags, jewellery and even shoes. The youngest little girls, some as wee as one-year-old come to the cottage prior to the big event and “dress up” to choose their outfit. As Tom laughingly says, “only one outfit ... no double dipping!”
The Big Day arrives, and Mr. Tunnicliff has been banished from the property. The invited guests (47 children this year, along with Alumni and mothers) came in from Madoc, Tweed, and as far away as Toronto and Windsor, walk along the street and into the Tunnicliff driveway. There, they were greeted by Judy and had their picture taken for posterity, signed the guest book and selected their own “tea cup and saucer”. These were used during the party and later taken home as personal mementos. Tables were assigned, group pictures taken, and voila, the “tea party” began!
The youngsters that are 11 years-old and younger were seated at their own tables on the covered deck, where each table was covered with linen table cloths and supplied linen napkins. Young ladies 12 and older were the “servers”, a most coveted position. The mothers were all relegated to the back-yard and their own party. The servers took their “clients’ orders” and retrieved their food and drink selections for them – a selection of sandwiches and drinks. When the main course of the “tea” is finished, the dessert room was visited … and as true to tradition the guests were offered a wide selection of desserts.
This herculean event requires additional help, because of course, the Tunnicliff’s cannot do this all by themselves. This year, Judy’s army of helpers consisted of long-time kitchen helper Mary Jo Brooks (Tweed) and first timer Sue Ann Ducharme (Windsor), plus Beth Hennessey (Windsor) as the photographer, along with Kathy Bancroft and Kelly Mumby who supplied the majority of desserts.
Once the food had been devoured, the party continued on in the back yard where willing guests performed. They sang, danced, recited, showed off their gymnastic skills or told stories. The traditions continued until the end of the afternoon soiree when the little ones danced to the “Diddly Dance” and Judy performed “I’m a Little Tea Pot”. It was truly a sweet and magical afternoon for all.
The Tunnicliff’s are definitely a team and Judy is very adamant in her praise of her husband. “I cannot do this without my Tom, or my helpers.” She added that, “the party is always held on the 3rd Sunday of August and only one year was missed due to an away family wedding.”
When asked why she has done the tea party all these years, she said “it all started because I wanted to do something special for my friends and their grandchildren … then the kids and grandparents kept asking me year after year if I was doing it again next year”. Twenty-five years later and no end in sight … so far over 700 children have attended, with many repeating every year. “I will do it as long as I can. I’m 72 so I hope for many more years! But if someone wants to take over for me when I am finished … I’ll welcome and help them”.
This year’s 25th edition of Judy’s Annual Tea Party ended with the sun still shining, the children and adults still smiling, and many more memories made. Only joy rains at the Tunnicliff’s on Moira Lake on Judy’s Tea Party day!
Future donations of cups and saucers are gratefully accepted.