Photo: “Our Lady of Abundant Caffeine”
There’s just something about coffee. The strong, pungent aroma of a dark roasted espresso tantalizes my nostrils with the promise of impending oral satisfaction. The smooth roll of that first sip across the tongue makes the taste buds snap to attention. Halfway through the demitasse cup my brain cells begin their rapid fire. New, creative thoughts travel swiftly across the neural pathways and push forward an occasional “aha!” moment into the conscience.
Memories of my childhood contain a lot of dark moments, but the lighter memories, the one’s I love to journey back to, always include coffee.
My favorite grandmother had a pot going in the kitchen from morning’s first light, until well after dinner. There was not a day I walked into her house when I was not met by the familiar waft of coffee made straight from an open can of MJB. It was customary to gather at her vinyl topped kitchen table and drink cup after cup while chatting about family and life. For me my grandmother was all about coffee and love.
My aunt Marie, my grandmother’s oldest daughter, struggled with life in numerous ways. She was an alcoholic, a prescription drug addict, had a husband who died of a drug overdose, had two young children (soon there would be four), and struggled to feed her family and keep a roof over their heads. But she was the funniest human being I have ever known. I adored her from the day I was born. She had Lucille Ball dyed red hair and the laugh and sense of humor to match. And for a myriad of reasons, she loved coffee too.
One morning when I was three, my mother took me to visit my aunt Marie. A smoldering cigarette had started a fire in her apartment the night before. My five-year old cousin Tommy woke up to the smell of the smoke and roused my aunt before the fire could spread to their rooms. She was able to get the children out in time. The fire department saved the building but now Marie and my cousins had temporary housing in another unit.
I sat at the small kitchen table as the aroma of burnt wood and coffee grounds pierced my nostrils. There were four chairs with plastic cushions that had cracks running right where the last pair of buttocks had sat. I picked at the pieces of foam stuffing that poked their way out of the cracks and left a little pile on the top of the table. I felt left out of the adult conversation and squirmed and wiggled in the chair until I got my aunt’s attention.
Marie decided it was time for me to try a little coffee. She reached for an extra demitasse cup and filled it halfway with the thick, black, steaming liquid. She followed it with two heaping teaspoons of sugar and a squirt of cream to cool it down then stirred it with a spoon. I will always remember that first sip as it crossed my lips. It was warm and sweet and creamy and it made me feel a little older and all the more important.
That moment felt like my induction into a secret sorority of sorts. It was a temporary glimpse into a future where I would be poised over thousands of cups of the treasured dark liquid. Cups I would drink while thinking, dreaming, writing, making business deals, during all-night study sessions, laughing with friends, curing hangovers, catching up with family and after burying the dead.
Coffee has become my fondest addiction. It is the one thing I will never go to rehab for nor give up during Lent. It ties me to the best moments in my life and has helped me to cope with the moments that I didn’t really like.
It is my quintessential liquid lover. The soul mate who will be there to lift me up during my darkest moments and celebrate with me in all the successes of my life.
I am lovin’ me a cup o’ Joe…