(Originally published on Medium, Ocotber 7, 2019)
A Love Letter
We’ve been together for a long time, haven’t we? Since that first sip of diluted Maxwell House Instant Coffee my grandmother gave me when I was ten, half weak coffee, half cream, plenty of sugar, we’ve been inseparable. I sat across from Nana at her kitchen table, waiting as she slid the Pfaltzgraff cup with the Yorktowne pattern across the vinyl tablecloth to me. This was it, my first sip of adulthood. No longer banished to the parlor with the younger kids, I had made it to the kitchen table with my rite-of-passage cup of joe, a slice of massa sovada still warm from the oven on a matching plate beside it.
..some tastes are all the sweeter for having been acquired.
I didn’t care much for you at first, I’ll admit it. But isn’t that always the way with life’s greatest treasures? Like the girl you can’t stand in middle school who becomes your best forever friend or the obnoxious guy in sophomore history class who becomes your first love, some tastes are all the sweeter for having been acquired.
You’ve gotten me through some tough times, all-night study sessions, hangover recovery, double shifts. My mom and I used to sit for hours at The Pewter Pot, talking over bottomless coffee poured into heavy ceramic mugs, nibbling at grilled, buttery blueberry muffins. I quit waitressing there after a month when the unhinged manager threw one of those mugs at me for cleaning a table too slowly. I threw it back with the accuracy of Nolan Ryan and high tailed it out of there to the combined soundtrack of shrieks and laughter behind me. I worried for days that the manager would sue me for assault but I heard later she ran out that night too and never went back. None of this was your fault.
In the break room of the grocery store where I worked my way through college, I dipped Hostess coffee cakes into Styrofoam cups of bitter brew and read in fifteen-minute snatches, burning whatever information I could into my brain before my 8 AM class. A class I would never have made it to without caffeine swirling through my veins.
I gave you up for months when I was carrying my son. As soon as he made his entrance into the world, you were waiting for me on a tray in my room, warm and comforting and full of the energy I would need to keep up with my boy. People told my husband he was crazy when he bought me a Keurig for Christmas. ‘You don’t buy your wife a kitchen appliance for Christmas. You buy her something that tells her how much she means to you like a ring or a necklace.’ But my husband knows his wife and when I opened the box that promised flavored coffee on demand, I knew I’d married well. Find a husband who isn’t afraid to put a Keurig under the tree, ladies.
When I was diagnosed with diabetes, I faced the very real prospect of giving you up altogether. I lasted a day. I learned to love you without sugar but it took a little while. Gone forever were the buttery, blueberry muffins and Hostess coffee cakes. I wasn’t losing you too.
Every job I’ve ever had was made possible by you. I survived a twenty-five-year finance career because you were there every morning, hot in winter, iced in summer. Now, as I change careers at a time when most people are heading towards the home stretch in theirs, I look forward to that first cup in the morning. I sit and sip and plan and worry. Maybe I won’t be good enough to make a living as a writer. Maybe I’ll have to go crawling back to the Land of the Gray Cube, tail between my legs. Wherever I end up, coffee will be going with me.
I would give my son the gift my grandmother had given me, the one I shared with my mom and aunts and grandmother for so many years. The gift of a long, loving chat over a cup of coffee.
I gave my son his first taste of coffee when he was ten. Like my first cup, it was weak and diluted with sugar and cream. I poured it reverently into my favorite coffee mug, the one with the green and white swirl pattern. My mom had given it to me for Christmas the year before her memory started to leave her. I would give my son the gift my grandmother had given me, the one I shared with my mom and aunts and grandmother for so many years. The gift of a long, loving chat over a cup of coffee.
He took one sip, grimaced and pushed it away. “No thank you, Mommy,” he said as he bounded out the door, basketball in hand. “It’s an acquired taste!” I called after him but he was already halfway through a mid-range jumper, our coffee bonding moment forgotten. ‘He’ll be back,’ I reassured myself ‘It’s an acquired taste.’ That was two years ago. He won’t go anywhere near it since.
My niece showed up at my door the other day, upset over an incident at work and looking for a sympathetic ear. “Do you want a cup of coffee?” I asked, trying to tamp down my excitement, forcing the hopeful edge out of my voice. “Oh, I’d love that,” she said, “I could really use a coffee right now.” I moved aside to let her in, then I put the kettle on.