The English Roses: Accent on Authenticity

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - When Joyce Hickey makes tea, she starts with an instant-heat kettle. Anyone else would fill it with fresh water and, with the push of a button, be done with it.

But not Hickey.

Because the English way of making tea is a time-honored, and time-consuming, ritual.

"You have to warm the pot," she says, running a china teapot under a scalding bath that emanates from the kitchen faucet. "It's important because it infuses the tea with more flavor."

And then there's the matter of the tea. Normally she uses loose tea because you can adjust the amount to the volume of water and it leads to a more potent beverage. But loose tea is so very hard to find in Boise.

"We prefer PG Tips," she says, "when we can get it."

Hickey has opened her elegant Foothills home to a reporter wanting to know more about the "Daughters of the British Empire," or DBE, a Treasure Valley charitable group that Hickey resurrected in 2000 after the group disbanded decades ago.

"We have about fifty members in two chapters," she says, smoothing her dress, a deep royal blue set off by a tri-color ribbon that identifies Hickey as a DBE member.

Her regal bearing and her cultured speech draw notice everywhere she goes, sometimes to her chagrin.

"I had a lady, an American, come up to me one day and say, 'Oh, I just loved visiting England and my favorite part of England was Loch Lomond, which, of course, isn't in England," she says with a chuckle.

She understands the interest of Americans, especially in a year when all of Britain is celebrating the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

"I was in high school when she was suddenly summoned from Kenya because her father had died. I remember it very, very clearly." (Note: King George VI was the subject of the Oscar-winning movie "The King's Speech," detailing his excruciating battle to overcome an embarrassing stutter.)

Hickey has been joined by two other members of the DBE, Kim Lock, the publicist for the group and vice-regent, and a dear friend, Maureen Sellers. The three woman have an easy rapport, cemented no doubt by their British roots and a shared sense of "we were dragged here by significant others."

Lock talks of the first few weeks of adjusting to bone-dry Boise after the lush life in England.

"I was a runner at the time," she says with a shy grin. "I remember running in the foothills and saying, 'Oh my goodness, what am I doing here?' But very soon I came to love Boise and I absolutely love being here."

Sellers arrived in 1969 from Canada to work alongside her husband at Simplot. The difference between her new life and the old one was shocking.

"I only lived 45 miles from London. If I wanted to go shopping, I would go to London. They didn't have anything in Boise," Sellers explains.

It didn't help that she and her husband settled on some property far from town. Mingling with neighbors wasn't an option. She's grateful now to have the camaraderie of like-minded women.

"They understand where you come from and that's a comfort because you don't often mix with the British when you're over here."

The DBE holds several fund-raisers throughout the year, and all in the service of four British homes for the aged. Think domestics like those in the hit Brit series "Downton Abbey."

"It's very nice to raise funds to keep them in comfort while they're suffering in old age," Sellers says with a smile.

The women walk outside to admire Hickey's rose garden, one planted with several varieties, including the Queen Elizabeth Rose. The patent ran out long ago, so Hickey gets them cheaply. But she admires them mostly for the way they send out long stems.

They better fit the vases that populate her living room, a tasteful space in shades of yellow and clotted cream and one with a commanding view of the Treasure Valley.

As the afternoon heat rises from the valley floor, the talk inevitably turns to all matters royal, especially the Queen's 60th Anniversary Year. The women are unapologetic royalists. Largely because Elizabeth has never set a foot wrong as monarch.

Lock sums it up best in focusing on the Queen's devotion to country.

"I think the reason she's staying in the throne and not abdicating is because she has an amazing sense of duty." The others nod in agreement.

They're also approving of the Royal Couple, a pairing so popular that most Brits just call them simply "Will & Kate," like you would a favorite TV show. In fact, the young newlyweds are the stars of their own ongoing mini-drama, punctuated by almost daily briefings about Kate's pregnancy.

"They're a very young couple," Hickey says approvingly, almost like a proud grandmother.

"The Queen was always whisked off and had to leave her children. They won't do that today, I believe."

By now it's tea time. Hickey slips into the kitchen to make sure the scones are ready. It's not enough that the tea be hot, she has to serve a sweet as part of the ritual. She has made them herself, small round confections the color of wheat.

Ordinarily, she would transfer the jam to an elegant serving dish, but a TV crew can't wait. So she elects to do the expedient thing and spoon it onto the scones.

"It's coming right from the jam jar, girls," she says laughing.

Despite the faux pas, count on the fact that, in the Treasure Valley, if these women have their way, there will always be an England.