Actually, my dear coffee… that is not all.
You are my espresso love, my aromatic amigo, my caffeinated companheiro. How can I thank you for all you’ve done for me? We have a long-standing friendship, you and I. You put a twinkle in my eye and a kick in my step.
And I see I’m not alone. I found this 6” x 10” homage to you at Target recently and couldn’t resist. It got me thinking how you’ve been such an integral part of my life; your dark deliciousness saturates so many memories. The sound of you brewing and being poured, of spoons clinking on mugs and of people sipping, talking and laughing, is a ubiquitous part of the soundtrack accompanying get-togethers with friends and family throughout my life.
My dear coffee, your rich aroma elicits a jumble of feelings and memories. The reassuring warmth of hot coffee and refreshing cool of iced coffee, are sensations I never tire of. You are simultaneously sweet and strong, fearlessly bold, but not afraid to show your mild side. Your steamy goodness rises from my cup, swirling up and around me, is woven into the fabric of my life, of my being. I stir sweetener and half-and-half into the dark depths of my mug, lightening you, and in turn, life.
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
-T. S. Eliot
You have been a reassuringly constant presence in my life and I loved you from the start. My aromatic amigo, I love you in all your delicious incarnations. When we visited my relatives in Massachusetts on vacations we enjoyed coffee ice cream, coffee frappes, Coffee Nips candies and the grown-ups had hot or iced coffee. Yum. I can still see my grandmother, my Vavo pouring a bit of coffee syrup into my milk from the bottle with the word “Autocrat” and the little red bird on it. It meant I was able to have my own version of a coffee beverage until I was old enough to drink the real thing.
They seemed to appreciate you more there in New England--my friends at home in New York didn’t know what I was talking about, coffee milk, but I knew what they were missing out on. Maybe the Boston Tea Party and resulting boycott of tea, and your willingness to stand in, ultimately helped the Colonists win their freedom from tea-loving England.
Your name, café, which sounded like cuh-fah, was one of the first words I learned in Portuguese and one of my favorites in my limited repertoire. And it goes so well with two of my other favorites, massa, or Portuguese sweetbread, and malassadas, sweet fried dough.
Your rich history has become part of my own. You’re always a welcome guest, whether it’s at a wedding, party, holiday meal, quiet Sunday brunch, or at a gathering or reception after losing a loved one.
My precious perk, you even symbolized the process of maturation in our family. I wasn’t allowed to have you until I received Confirmation in the eighth grade, when I became an adult in the eyes of God and the Catholic Church. That was probably wise, since I’d heard coffee could stunt my growth, and with my genetics I couldn’t risk it.
There were many nights in high school and college where I stayed up late with you by my side, cramming for tests or completing writing assignments. Nothing like a deadline and a shot of go-go juice to get my creative juices flowing. How many exams and final projects were fueled by you? How many good grades do I owe to you, my caffeinated companion?
Then you supported me in another milestone of maturation. My dear coffee, I don’t know how to thank you for helping me get through college. Back in those days, I had an illegal hot pot and instant coffee to keep me going. Though many a night I reached the point of diminishing returns, all jittery, heart racing, stomach upset, and had to learn the hard way to pace myself. At your best, you provided the familiar feel of home on those days I was feeling homesick and overwhelmed by the newness of a campus and city I had yet to explore.
If there had been coffee shops or cafes back then, I may have had a place to gather with friends to talk other than smoke-filled bars. And you provided fuel just as important as gasoline for road trips and the at least five-hour drive to and from college. You gave me a break, kept me going literally and figuratively--one stop for coffee, the next for a restroom pit stop and more coffee. I would sip you while singing along to my favorite songs, including “Black Coffee in Bed,” by Squeeze.
College was a challenge, but it was nothing compared to entering the workforce or the bone-tired I experienced as a mom who worked outside the home. My caffeinated companion, you were there for me as I entered the so-called real world. Your Java jolt helped me through many a long, tiring workday, and helped me meet many a publication deadline.
“I can’t stop drinking the coffee. If I stop drinking the coffee, I stop doing the standing and the walking and the words-putting-into-sentence doing.”
--Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham) in The Gilmore Girls
I wish I hadn’t needed to rely so heavily on you when my daughter was young; but there were so many days I had to work after a night of interrupted or no sleep. Or times when I had to work two jobs, or overtime. Like many people, I’d love to live in world where caffeine was unnecessary, where a cup of coffee would be a luxury and not a necessity, where there would be more time to stop the clock, sit and sip a cup of coffee for the sheer enjoyment and not the caffeine jolt. But in this ever-changing economy there is always a lot of work to be done. I don’t know how I would do it without you.
“I don’t know where my ideas come from. I will admit, however, that one key ingredient is caffeine. I get a couple cups of coffee into me and weird things just start to happen.”
My finely-ground friend, we are a dynamic deadline duo, now and when I worked for various publications as a writer, proofreader and editor. You give me editorial edification as I put notes, quotes and thoughts together into coherent stories. My time with you is a respite from stress, and gives the Muse space to roam for a few minutes unencumbered by my nerves, fears, insecurities and “Oh my God, I can’t think of anything to write, how am I going to say what I need to? What am I trying to say, anyway?” (Okay, sip, pace, take a moment, there you go.)
So many times, sipping a cup of coffee while writing gives me time to think, ponder, it’s part of my creative process. It sets thoughts in motion, as so eloquently expressed here:
“This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightaway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at a full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of wit start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”
--Honore de Balzac
My Zen companion, you provide a sweet, creamy oasis from the daily grind. For someone like me who is at least as much introvert as extrovert, you give me a moment to be in the moment, to stop, to breathe.
Working with the public as I often have and do now, means being interrupted, being on call, being “on” all the time. The 10 minutes of quiet in the break room, sipping coffee, sitting quietly and reading or writing, gives me a chance to do a mini-recharge. I can close my eyes, inhale the aroma, feel the hot liquid warm my insides. My thoughts go inward with the appreciation of a simple pleasure and I regain equilibrium. The hot, sweet, delicious coffee brings me back to the present, to myself, brings me calm and quiet while energizing me for the next go-round.
“We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.”
Then there you were again when I worked at Barnes and Noble Bookstore, a job and place I loved because it combined so many of my favorite things—books and music; children’s books with their amazing stories and artwork; smart, funny, interesting people including readers and writers; an in-store café with pastries and Starbucks coffee; and the opportunity to host a writers’ group. It really was a pleasure to work in an atmosphere suffused with the aroma of coffee brewing, pastries baking, and the sounds of interesting conversations.
When I hosted the writers’ group, it was always with a cup of you in hand or on the café table. It was reminiscent of my early days with extended family--people gathered around a table, drinking coffee, sharing stories-- in short, my Happy Place.
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?”
Like any relationship, my dear coffee, ours has changed over the years. There are times I quit you, but I always came back. I hear you even have health benefits, like antioxidants and helping people be more mentally focused. Though I now drink half-decaf on a regular basis, you haven’t been detrimental to me like other things I’ve quit, like alcohol and cigarettes, or am trying to quit, like refined sugar. Those substances ultimately took more than they gave, and like a bad relationship, I had to let them go.
But most of all, my darling automatic drip, I love how sharing and preparing you helps bring people together. You little matchmaking mug of mud—you even helped bring my now-fiancé and I together. You have been a centerpiece of our relationship. We used to work together, first on an afternoon/evening shift, and then later on an overnight shift. He often made coffee for me with his one-cup brewer before I left, so I could get home safely.
We often shared break-time and over time found we shared some common grounds—drank coffee, exchanged books and music, and got to know each other. I still have the Dire Straits Live, “Alchemy,” CD he let me borrow. The lyrics of one song, Expresso Love, made me think of the relationship that was brewing. And we have shared many conversations and quiet moments thanks to your beneficent beans. You are a wonderful part of our brunches together, and have enhanced countless vacations.
Your glugs of goodness have also served as generational glue, helping me connect with my father, who is gone now. As I grew old enough to drink coffee, and into a young woman with ideas of my own and a temperament very similar to his, I found it harder and harder to talk to him. But we could always share a cup of coffee at my parents’ house, or at a Dunkin' Donuts or diner. You acted as a conversational catalyst and helped coax many stories of his life and our family history from him and my mother. In fact, my Mom, who is normally talkative before coffee, is a veritable chatterbox after.
Over many years and many cups of coffee, our relationship evolved. You helped my father and I find a way back to each other, and for that I thank you. My beguiling beverage, you inspire me to write, and this poem is a tribute to my father and the special place you had in our relationship.
Coffee and a Donut
It was wonderful talking to you today--
Took you black coffee and a Dunkin’ Donut
Just like old times.
I was finally able to tell you
All the things I found so hard to say before,
Like thank you for all you’ve done
For me and my family,
And thank you for working so hard
All your life to take care of us.
And I’m sorry I never let you finish a song
But you made it so much fun to say,
“Don’t sing it! Don’t sing it.”
Because you’d say, “That makes me want to sing it more.”
And when I cried, “OK, OK, sing it! Sing it!”
You replied, “All right, if you insist.”
And you would proceed to sing off-key
To the music of your children’s groans and laughter.
I am finally able to tell you
How much it meant to me
Just to have you there,
Our lunch dates when you worked down the street
And I had half-day kindergarten,
It was a bonus that you taught me so much—
How to tie my shoes, ride a bike,
Play checkers and chess, think strategically;
Hop on a pogo stick—I was the neighborhood champ.
Then there was the hot pink Hula Hoop, the stilts, skateboard,
And the special surprises—
Like the time you wouldn’t let me play in the basement,
And with a sigh and a pout I obeyed,
And a few days later on my birthday,
Up the stairs came a beautiful hot-pink Stingray, three-speed bike,
The first hot-pink, three-speed Stingray with banana seat
And hand-breaks and pedals that pedaled backwards
In the whole neighborhood
Made possible by the biggest, best, smartest,
Strongest, most handsome man
In the whole neighborhood--in the whole wide world.
I am finally able to share with you
How perfect it felt to be carried into the house
Still warm and sleepy from the four-hour ride
Back from visiting my favorite aunt and uncle and cousins,
Your strong arms holding me,
My face nestled safely against your neck,
Strangely comforted by your beard-stubbled, prickly face,
And glad to be home to familiar smells
And my own pillow and bed.
I can finally admit now how thankful I am
For all the times you carried me,
Cared for me, tried to show
Just how much you loved me.
But because you never said it, I didn’t quite get it—
It didn’t dawn on me until you were gone,
Along with my defenses,
And my vision cleared and I remembered
All the times you tried so hard in your own awkward way,
The times you stayed, though I pushed you away.
But you also didn’t see, in spite of the times you hurt me,
How my whole life has been a tribute to you.
And I’m glad I came today and talked,
And grateful you got your message through to me,
But it’s time for me to go.
The coffee has seeped into the ground,
And I know you’ll be happy
That the donut crumbs will feed the squirrels and crows.
I’m glad we visited and I thank you for meeting me here
So you will finally know and I can finally say,
Dad, I love you so very much
And I miss you every day.