I had somehow managed to avoid an affinity for the dark nectar all of my life, in spite of growing up with coffee drinkers and then marrying a coffee
addict connoisseur who then produced two more such types in our home. My childhood and adult life is rife with memories of coffee people and what comes with them–percolators, Mr. Coffee, the coffee shop, after dinner table talks, breakfast coffee, drive-through large coffee with two creams, pots of coffee when company came calling. One evening, three or four years ago, I started drinking coffee. I had witnessed it, but now I was a full participant in a certain rite, a liturgy of sorts.
Uncle Phil offered me a cup of coffee, like he offered it to my cousins and second cousins who were visiting from Virginia and southern California. We knew each other to varying degrees, and aside from our family blood line, we brought a fair amount of diversity to that impromptu reunion. I accepted the offer of the traditional family beverage, and I joined the ranks of the veteran drinkers who rested their elbows on the table and hugged their mugs with both hands. We sat around the kitchen table for two hours, nursing our coffees and telling old tales and new tales.
The coffee tasted like an amalgam of a hundred separate snapshots roasted together. It had undertones of the old-fashioned kind of cigarette smoke and my grandmother’s house on holidays, with James’ Java Shoppe notes of mens’ cologne and hamburgers on the griddle and chocolate milkshakes. The aroma was church potlucks and Christmas breakfast, with hints of Cracker Barrel and Mom’s green thermos just opened. It was celebration and grieving, pleasure and survival, routine and special occasion, all steaming into my face as I sipped it.
My uncle poured for each of us a cup of regular ol’ joe. He and my aunt and my cousins and me, we laughed a lot. We didn’t solve any of the world’s problems. We didn’t talk about all of the ideologies that made us different, maybe even opposed, on religion or politics or education or what people call progress. We didn’t discuss whether or not the coffee we drank came from a sustainable source. It was a time to remember and relish in the things that did make sense to us right then, while we sat in the same zip code, because it likely wouldn’t happen again. I watched my uncle’s eyes well up as he reared back in a hearty laugh, some of those tears bearing salts of old sorrows. Time stood still, marked sacred and protected and untarnished. Our mugs brimmed with the same liquid, poured from the one larger, common glass cup.
Unlike my husband and my girls, I don’t drink coffee every day. I have, however, developed an appreciation for a fresh pour over to accompany a few squares of dark chocolate. When we travel, a super dark (maybe a little over-roasted) tall Americano is warming and comforting, like long stretches of Kansas pulling us toward deciduous trees and humidity, or drawing us back again toward high desert and mountains growing on the horizon. After supper with a piece of homemade pie, or with a big breakfast and fresh biscuits to welcome travelers who come to our Rivendell, when relatives or friends sit in the same room after a long separation, or to celebrate this occasion or that–we all pick a mug for our coffee. Then we share in the communion.