I'm sure all of us at some point have thought, "What is it that I'm really supposed to be doing?" And for most of us, that answer changes several times over the course of a lifetime. When I was little, I wanted to be a teacher. I used to make all of the younger kids in my neighborhood have pretend class with me and write things down on a piece of paper, and I would grade them and put pretty stickers on them, just like my second grade teacher Mrs. Davis used to do. She was really good at being a teacher, and she made it seem so fun and easy. So it became my dream.
Then, in 11th grade, I had a math teacher named Mrs. Wilson. You could tell that she loved what she did. Mrs. Wilson made math come alive, even made it fun. So I had a new dream: I would be a High School math teacher. I would be the cool teacher with the bangle bracelets who sat on her desk and taught her adoring students how to cut layers in their hair by flipping it upside down, while simultaneously teaching the Pythagorean Theorem. I would teach world-changers and future engineers and inventors. I would make a difference. This was a very important dream.
Then I went to college and had to take a math class from a bad teacher and I made a bad grade. And my dream felt crushed. I was so used to this dream coming easily to me. I was a great test taker and I knew how to study, so why wasn't this coming as easily as it should? I thought I must have the wrong dream. Because dreams are supposed to be easy. They are supposed to feel good. That's why they're called dreams, right?
I'm just starting to realize, many years (and three majors across two continents, with a half dozen jobs and a couple of volunteer gigs) later, that I have a lot to learn about dreams, and even more so about making them a reality.
I met Robin Peters in 2002 during my Freshman year of college. She had just moved to my hometown of Foley, Alabama from Michigan, along with her husband and four kids. She soon kindled a friendship with my parents, who had recently opened up a coffee shop and bookstore (another growing dream of mine). I really can't say enough how much I love the Peters family. They are beautiful and warm and kind and loving, and a little crazy in the best possible way. They give the best hugs in the whole world, the kind where you know they're hugging you on purpose. There's no doubt that the matriarch of the family has had a lot to do with nurturing that seed of kindness in all of them. I can't tell you how many times I've been to their home and they had a friend staying with them who needed a place to crash, or there was a group of people hanging out, because their home seems like home to everyone who enters.
Like me, Robin is a dreamer. Also like me, her dream has evolved over the years, as time and grace and circumstance have allowed. She used to come down to Foley on vacation with her family, and her mom would take her, her sister Sue and their daughters to a tea room in Orange Blossom Square. She recalls it as one of her fondest memories. When she moved down permanently some years later, however, the tea bar was no longer there, much to her disappointment. She had never dreamed of opening a tea bar herself (she was more of a book store kind of girl), but the loss of this special place had an effect on her, and the seed of a dream was planted.
Over the next several years Robin and Sue pursued this new dream, and even saw it take root three different times, only for it to be cut down before it could grow as big and tall as everyone expected (and wanted). Dreams seem so right when we first have them, don't they? But the truth is, they're hard. And heartbreaking. But what I've learned from Mrs. Robin is that if it's worth it, it'll all work out. God makes a way, in His timing of course. That blasted timing.
For us humans it's hard to know when it's the right time. You have all this feeling and excitement, and if you're anything like me, you want to make it happen as soon as possible. But Robin taught me that when the time is right, the doors start opening. Robin and Sue had looked at tons of other places over the years that they thought might work for a new tea shop, but they all ended up being dead ends. Then this place behind the park in Foley, which they had been looking at for a long time, finally became available, and by chance (or God's provision?) Robin happened to see it in the newspaper, and Sue made an appointment to see it. Once they had a chance to look through it they loved it. And once the landlord told them the rent they loved it even more. A door seemed to be opening.
Then the landlord asked for a credit report. Uh oh. Robin and her family had lost their home in Michigan because of some bad tenants; they had really bad credit as a result. That didn't stop Robin from trying though. She wrote the landlord a letter. She was honest. She told them what had happened, and that she hated that an entire lifetime could be judged by one bad incident, but here it is, and here is what she wanted to do with this historical, charming building. She was sincere when she told him, "I really want to give this a try." They called her back several agonizing days later and offered her the building. They also offered to re-do all of the plumbing and the flooring for them. The door was wide open.
The Copper Kettle first opened in July of this year, with it's Grand Opening taking place just last week. Once an old train depot, the "Tea Shack" shares the same coziness that you would expect to find in the Peters' own home: "When people come in here, I feel like they're coming into my home, and they leave feeling like they've been in someone's home...And that's good, because I want them to feel at home." The shelves are filled with an eclectic assortment of teas and knick-knacks and old black and white photographs. You could spend hours just perusing the shelves, sipping on tea and sharing stories with friends and strangers alike. It's crazy what they've done. A lot of us have lost that, the "art of sitting" as Robin puts it.
Through all of their adventures, Robin and Sue have gained quite the loyal following. The "tea family" has grown in a sense, and everyone wants to pitch in and help in any way they can. There are volunteers helping on the register and serving, which is something I've never seen before in a business of its kind. Friends of friends, the young, the old, men and women alike come out to show their support, as we welcome this incredible contribution to our little community. This place isn't only for one kind of person. It's for you.
That special element is Robin's favorite part of the whole experience: "just to see people stop the rat race and enjoy each other." Because it's not about the tea, not really. Sure, she likes tea, but she likes people more. Her dream is not to create the perfect cup of tea; her dream is to create the perfect place for people to sit down and enjoy a cup of tea, without having to think about anything else. She calls it "the bee's work". They just do their jobs, and because they do their jobs we get to enjoy the honey and eat good food.
"I think the problem is we all think our work is something different than what it really is. We kind of buy into the whole existence mentality of what success is...Cause the art of tea-ing could play out in all kinds of ways...I mean we like the idea of being in a fancy place with fancy teas, but that really limits a lot of people, doesn't it? So it really didn't play out that way. It played out better than what we would have done. It's not just for the people who can afford a fancy cup of tea. It's also for the people who come off the street and need a hot bowl of soup and someone to talk to."
Sometimes we have to let go of what we want so that we can make room for something better. And that's not easy. Mrs. Robin admits that if she judged what she's done by the world's eyes - you know, did she make a good paycheck, did she sell a lot of stuff - well, no, she didn't. But you know what? She has loved her family, she has made things she loved, she has been passionate about what she's done, she's met other amazing people, and God has shown her things she could have never done, in ways that she would have never planned on. Every "failure" she has ever endured has brought her to this place, here and now, where she can say that and mean it.
And sure, Robin and Sue may not know exactly where this dream will take them, or what it really even is. Robin jokes, "We're still very confused about who we are, cause we'll come out with fancy tea cups and plastic silverware. I mean who are we!?" Even so, there is no doubt that these crazy sisters have created something beautiful, even if they don't know exactly what they are doing, or for how long they'll be doing it.
Every one of us has a dream. I think that comes from the fact that we ourselves are the dream of a Dreamer. And whether that dream is to be a teacher or a fireman or a mom or a photographer or a purveyor of fine teas, it always seems so pretty until we have to actually do it. What if it doesn't turn out the way I wanted it to? What if I fail? What if no one understands it? I think everyone probably has those questions too. But as Robin says, "Even if it doesn't turn out the way you thought it would, it will still have built something in you that nothing else in this life could have given you. I mean we wouldn't have moved down here if I wasn't a dreamer. We wouldn't have children if I wasn't a dreamer - I lost seven children before I had Gabby - pretty much most people would have given up by that time...Its gonna be good and bad no matter what you do, but you sure don't want to get to the end of your life and think, 'I always wanted to do that and never did.' Don't be one of those."
The beauty of a dream is that is is wild and fanciful and free. But I think that's the danger in it too. We get so caught up in dreaming that we forget to live. Mrs. Robin taught me that there's a time to stop dreaming and take a step. Let go of all of the things the world says you're supposed to have, and just do it. "We should not let fear stop us. Fear of failure, fear of anything...fear of it not being what you hoped it would be. Because it's always been so much better than how I wanted it to be...I would not say in the world's eyes I've been successful. I didn't go home a millionaire and sometimes I barely make a living. But beyond the world of existence, its been awesome. It's been wonderful, it's been heartbreaking and hard and I'm so glad I did it."
Thank you, Mrs. Robin, for taking the time to share your story and your dream with me. Both you and Mrs. Sue have been an incredible inspiration to me, and to many others. I look forward to spending my future Saturdays sharing a pot of tea with you, as I chase this dream of mine.
For those of you who would like to join us, The Copper Kettle is located at 106 N. Chicago St in Foley, Alabama, and their operating hours are Tuesday-Friday 10am-6pm and Saturday 10am-4pm. Like their page on Facebook for their daily lunch specials and more!
To see more photos from The Copper Kettle and to order prints, click here.
Story and photos copyright Jessi Lambert of Casara Photo. For inquiries, please send Jessi an email.