By Rosanne Ponchick (12-12-18)
I must tell you a story about tea, yes, tea changed my life! And what in the world does tea have to do with a million?
It all began over 30 years ago with the question from one of my second grade students: “How much is a million?” Of course I responded with the following: “It is a big number, it is a thousand thousands, and it is the number one followed by six zeros.”
BUT WAIT! Could I show that child and my other students what a million actually looked like?
I thought about collecting a million “somethings.” I knew that other teachers collected acorns, pennies and soda tabs but I didn’t want to do that.
So I had a unique idea. How about collecting tea tags? After all, they are easy to collect, easy to count, easy to store and small enough to gather.
I told my students to go home and start collecting any tea tags they could find. Well, one student told her family she needed to collect tea tags for a school project. When she came home from school she immediately removed the tea tags from all the boxes of tea she could find in her home. The next day, the frustrated mother of that student told me now she doesn't know what kind of tea she has in her home!
A few months later I attended a summer curriculum planning workshop. At the break, I began looking for tea drinkers and went around the room looking for their tea tags so I could add them to my tea tag collection as part of my quest for …
one million tea tags. One person observed me and asked what I was doing. I explained my project and she said, “Why don’t you write a letter to The New York Times to see if they would do a story about your project?” I didn’t think they would be interested. Nevertheless, I wrote a letter to The New York Times about my quest for 1 million tea tags.
Quickly, I forgot I sent the letter. A few weeks later, I received a message from a Times representative asking me to contact them. I thought they were calling about starting a subscription so I almost didn’t return the call. When I did, I was told that the NJ editor of the newspaper wanted to do a story about my tea project. I couldn’t believe it! A few weeks later a reporter came to my classroom to write the story and the next day, a photographer came and took pictures to accompany the article about my 1 million tea tag quest.
Mail (along with tea tags) came “pouring” into my school shortly after the story appeared in the Nov. 28, 1988 NJ edition of the Times. A few weeks later I was contacted by The Wall Street Journal for another story. That article appeared on December 28, 1988. Once again mail came pouring into my school. This time mail arrived not only from New Jersey and other states but also from different parts of the world. We were receiving hundreds of letters each month.
I responded to every piece of mail. As the mail continued to arrive, I received calls from radio and TV stations plus other newspapers and magazines about my project. After almost 30 years I am still receiving mail from tea tag pen pals from around the world.
Originally I only collected tea cups and saucers. However, as a result of all this tea publicity “brewing” around me, I started collecting tea “everything” because the tea tag pen pals, family, and friends were sending me unusual tea gifts. Whenever I would see something related to tea, I would purchase that item to add to my growing collection. At that point, my home became an incredible one-of-a-kind tea museum.
But now, my home has exploded with more tea “everything” items than I can display, store or feature. Thus causing my plea to “the universe “ for an official tea everything museum outside of my home!
So that initial question of “How much is a million?” has been successfully answered as not only have I collected the million tea tags but tea has become a central focus of my life. In fact, my license plate reads :”Tea Lady.” My other car reads ”Tea Tag” and is being covered entirely with tea tags.
Now the new goal is to answer the question:
“How much is a billion?”