Good to the Last Drop

Coffee.  I even love the sound of the word.  Contrary to the “Cup of Tea with Momma G” title, I don’t often drink tea.  But hot coffee-now, that’s another story.

Every morning at 4:40, my automatic coffeemaker begins dripping its aromatic Columbian treasure to the waiting pot, so by the time my alarm rings at five, and I shuffle to the kitchen, several steaming cups are waiting for me.  I pour a mug and sip it while I check my email, waiting for the caffeine to awaken my groggy brain and inspire me to stretch the kinks from my stiff joints.

I have been drinking coffee almost as long as I remember.  My parents were huge coffee drinkers, and in the house where I was raised, there was rarely a moment when there wasn’t a pot of dark brown liquid on the stove.  My mother drank hers black, my father with milk and sugar.  I prefer mine with cream and sugar, but drink it black to save calories, except on Sundays, when I savor one large mug fixed just the way I like it.

When I was a child, a milestone of maturity was to be old enough to fix my dad’s coffee.   I think I was around seven when I reached this pinnacle of achievement.   It was a simple process, but one that required close attention.  My parents were smokers, so finding a match to light the gas burner was easy.  I would place the battered aluminum coffee pot over the flame and wait until the deep brown liquid neared the point of simmer.  Paying attention was crucial, because the line between heating coffee and boiling coffee is very thin.  One moment of distraction- the time it took to grab an oatmeal cookie from the pantry- and the swirling liquid would bubble, leaving it bitter and gray.   So I watched, and waited until the liquid just sizzled against the edge of the pot.  I’d carefully fill a mug and stir in just enough milk to change the color from mahogany to oak.   Then, just as carefully, I would stir in a rounded teaspoon of sugar, and then add the amount that my dad called “a little bit more” and stir it in.  I sampled a bit from the spoon, just to be sure it was right, and gingerly carried the mug to the living room where my father sat on his easy chair.  It was a ritual to be repeated countless times through the years.  When I was a teenager, aggravated at being asked to wait on my father, I never expected to miss the task, but now I would give almost anything to bring him just one more steaming cup.

In my parents’ house, coffee was the catalyst for conversation.  Whenever people entered the door, they were immediately offered a cup, for indeed, even during financial hardship, there was always coffee.  When I was a small child, my father introduced me to my first cup.  He filled a mug with milk and poured in a small amount of coffee, sweetened it with sugar, and invited me to sit with him and enjoy a cup and keep him company.  To me this was a monumental statement.  It meant that for the next ten minutes, I was like an adult- an equal, whose opinions and ideas carried equal weight as my father’s.  I felt grown up, affirmed, and valued.  From that day on, sharing a cup of coffee removed the walls that separate child from parent.  Sitting at the old kitchen table to slurp caffeine from a cup and follow the slurp with a satisfied “Ahhh” put us on the same side, even if just for a few moments.

In much the same fashion, I shared coffee with my children.  When Abby was a teenager, we began our own ritual of sharing coffee on the beach.  We would fill a large thermos with hot coffee, mix it with sugar and creamer, and sip it while the sun rose over the Atlantic Ocean.   Like they had when I was a teenager, the barriers that separate kids from adults toppled the moment that thermos was opened. The scent of coffee mingling with the salt air opened the heart and relaxed the soul.

My dearest friend Sue and I formed our friendship over cups of coffee. We would brew a pot and sit in her kitchen or mine, our children playing in the next room.    When she moved to North Carolina, I thought my heart would break, but every once in awhile, the phone will ring and it will be Sue, asking me if I want to share a cup over the phone and catch up.  I always do. 

As much as I love my first cup of the day, I love to linger over a cup after dinner.  When the children were young, their father and I would make a fresh pot, sit on the deck and chat while the sun faded and the kids searched for grasshoppers in the tall grass by the shed.  I never quite understood how the same drink that woke us up in the morning helped us to relax at the end of the day, but it did. 

I grind my coffee at the grocery store and before I close the bag, I often stick my nose in the bag and inhale a few times.  I suppose it looks a bit ridiculous, but any true coffee lover knows that nothing beats the aroma of freshly ground coffee beans.   My favorite coffee house is my own apartment.  However, poured into a ceramic mug or a Styrofoam cup, in the car or on my front patio, served by a waitress or Juan Valdez himself, coffee will always be my beverage of choice.  Come to think of it, I could go for a cup right now.  How do you take yours?

Children of the Sea

I was born to live near the sea.  I’m not sure when I realized this, but I know it to be true.  The reality is that I grew up in Western Massachusetts and the closest thing to water near my parents’ house was the Chicopee Brook.  However, my grandparents owned a cottage a short walk from the ocean in New Hampshire and it is there that I learned where my heart belongs.

One of my earliest recollections is dancing through the waves of Cable Road Beach while singing “June is Bustin’ Out All Over.”  I was around six years old and remember splashing wildly, singing at the top of my lungs, until I noticed people on the beach staring at me.  I couldn’t help it- the day was bright and sunny, the waves were crashing and it just seemed to me that Oscar Hammerstein must have been thinking of a day such as this when he wrote the song.  It never occurred to me that Oklahoma is land locked, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The spirit of the song captured my heart and was reflected in the sun-dappled brine.

There is something magical about the salt water. There is, of course, the scientific evidence that salt acts as a mild antiseptic, so it should come as no surprise that soaking in the sea heals poison ivy, stubbed toes and athlete’s foot.  However, I am a believer that it also remedies anxiety, strained muscles and broken hearts.  There is nothing as soothing as throwing myself into the curl of a crashing breaker and riding it to shore.  When I ride a wave, I clear my thoughts of everything except what is happening at that exact moment.  I open my eyes, white foam surrounding me, the gurgle and sputter of the froth filling my ears.   Bubbles massage my tense shoulders and I relax, allowing the strength of the wave to carry me where it will.  Again and again, I hurl myself into the surf, until shivering and exhausted, nose dripping and hair tangled, I must leave the water to warm awhile in the sun. 

My children share my love for the sea. Indeed, Gabe was only two weeks old the first time I dipped his toes into the Atlantic.  They, like generations before them, played in the water until their lips turned blue, rolled in the sand until they were warm, and then again threw themselves into the churning sea.  They learned that the ocean held countless treasures- green and blue sea glass, star fish, and smooth bits of wood bleached white by the sun and salt.  They saw that the edge of a waning ripple forms wedding veil lace, and when the wind blows, white caps play hide and seek with the sun.   They learned that by wading from Jenness Beach to Straw’s Point they could think more clearly and talk more honestly.    They came to know, like I do, that the sea would cool their anger, order their thoughts and inspire their spirits.

I dream of having a home at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.  I want to take grandchildren swimming- to tell them how my mother would float parallel to the shore and let the surf crash over her head. I want to teach them to ride waves, the way I taught my children, the way my father taught me.   I want them to know the strength of an undertow the day after a storm and the serenity of gentle ripples that lap the gray and silver silt.  I want to hear them squeal when an icy wave slaps their backs and wonder if it’s possible to swim to the Isles of Shoals.   I have visions of walking the beach after everyone goes home to fix dinner, when only the seagulls remain and the sand turns cool.   Such dreams will not become realities- homes by the sea are not within my reach- but I will be content to rise early in the morning and drive to my beloved coast.

I tell my children that when I die I want my ashes scattered in the Atlantic.  They don’t want to discuss such things and try to change the subject.  I know this is because they are young and do not yet want to imagine the beach without me splashing by their sides.  But to me, it would be going full circle. We are born from water and it makes sense that I should return to it.  They have time to come around- I have no intention of passing from this life to the next anytime soon.   But someday, the winter of my life will close in and I would like the cool green arms of the sea to be my final resting place. 

Soon September will bring cooler winds and paler skies.  But right now, sun is shining and the waters are warm.  There are still days to float in the brine and watch for rolls of churning liquid thunder to carry me once again to the shore.   Surf’s up- let’s go for a swim!

End of Summer

Today, my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, is packing to return to college.  I have watched my kids do this  countless times, and yet, I will never really get used to it.  There is nothing quite so lonely as looking at your child’s empty closet and neatly made bed.   She will, of course, leave something behind; a stray pair of shoes, a rumpled skirt, a necklace.  I will wonder if I should mail them to her, thinking she will need them, but in the end, I will not.  As always, I will keep them as insurance that she will return home to them.  And to me.

When my children were babies, I was a stay at home mother.  I loved this time.  I never minded getting up to nurse at 3AM.  I never minded that my shirts had spit up stains and my hair, once long to my waist, had to be cropped short so I could finish a shower and shampoo in less than five minutes.  I loved watching Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow, and baking oatmeal cookies for bagged lunches, and weaving friendship bracelets.  I loved looking in the rear view mirror to see sleepy little heads nodding in car seats.  I loved kissing boo-boos to make them better, making teddy bear toast for breakfast, and creating bubble beards in the bathtub. 

Too soon the days of being home with the kids came to an end. They went to school and I went to work, and no longer did we have the luxury of knowing that each day would be pretty much like the last.  I came to relish summer when the kids could sleep late in the morning and stay up late at night.  For me, summer was a celebration with untrimmed hair, bare feet and eating ice cream for breakfast.   Summer was reckless and irresponsible.  It was fireworks and silly stories and catching grasshoppers from the tall grass in the back yard.  For me, summer was childhood.

But every year,  when the August sun bleached the grass dry and a harvest chill stole the warmth from the summer night skies, I began to dread the fall, when school and homework would force a routine of scheduled meals and bed times .  Although New England autumns painted the trees with regal gold and scarlet, and the air became cheerfully crisp and invigorating, I would mourn, just a little, for the passing of yet another summer.

 Every parent knows that our role in life is to prepare our children to fly on their own.   Like labor, it is a long and painful transition for which we are never quite prepared.  It seemed to me that my children were always a step ahead of me.  They weaned before my milk ran dry.  They walked before I wanted to stop carrying them.  Before I knew it, I was watching them walk away from me- to first grade, to a first dance, to a first love, to college, to a first apartment.   It is not that the time snuck by before I realized it.  I saw it passing.  I tried to hold on.  But time, like summer, like children, cannot be held in one place.

 Elizabeth has almost finished.  This is her senior year of college, and she is proof positive that I have fulfilled my job.   The carefree summer of her youth is coming to a close and soon, she will assume the mantle of fall with its responsibilities and obligations. 

I should be rejoicing, but the congratulations cannot slide past the lump in my throat.  I fake a grin- never let them know that you are dying inside- and offer to hold the suitcase down while she closes the lid.

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