mitchmajor’s latest post, inspired me to dig out this article I wrote about eight years ago. This was originally published in the Trinidad Guardian, back in 1996.
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It’s very chic to be addicted to coffee right now. I mean it’s THE ‘in’ thing. Little cafés are opening all over the place and everybody is into coffee these days. Isn’t the Number 1 hang out spot on ‘Friends’ a coffee shop? Doesn’t Felicity work at a coffee shop? People will think that I’m ‘follow fashion’ and that I have jumped onto the bandwagon, this rebirth of coffee addicts in the 90’s. Well that’s a misconception. I don’t know about anybody else, but I was destined to be addicted to caffeine.
It’s a tradition that has been passed down in my family from generation to generation. As my granny recently told me, my great-great-great grandfather was a coffee & cocoa planter back in the 1800’s. Of course the family imbibed the black stuff daily. My great-great-grandmother, Mama Nen had terrible headaches (read: caffeine withdrawal) if she didn’t have her coffee in the morning. My grandmother, mother, father, my aunts and all my uncles drink coffee religiously. My grandmother told me, that when she was a little girl, her grandmother would put drops of coffee on her tongue when she was a toddler. So as religious coffee drinkers were in my family, my grandfather had the habit as well and it was by his hand that I was indoctrinated into the family addiction. (It’s not as bad as it sounds.)
I don’t really remember much of what going to live with my grandparents was like. My parents had just separated, and my mother wasn’t on her feet financially. All I really remember about the move is that I HAD to be there, and my father couldn’t be. I was four, and only a few vivid memories still stay with me of that early time. One of those early recollections, was one of the first mornings in my grandparents’ home. I rose just before daybreak, probably awakened by my grandparents who were early risers, and I treaded from my bedroom, down the hall and stopped just in the doorway of the kitchen. I remember peeping around the humongous refrigerator, to see my grandfather sitting in his chair next to the large kitchen window ‹ my grandmother was a blur, creating breakfast for the family.
Grandad’s feet were propped up on a makeshift counter, rocking the chair back so it stood on two legs, drinking his first cup of coffee for the morning. He heard some noise, as my grandmother moved around, and caught a glimpse of me. He beckoned me forward and I walked across the huge kitchen to his chair. I stood silently while he went to get me a little cup and saucer. It was an espresso cup, but I didn’t know it at the time. As far as I was concerned it was my very own coffee cup, in miniature, produced magically by my grandfather. He poured me a cup of coffee, then returned to his chair, lifted me into his lap, and we drank our coffee together. He engaged me in conversation slowly, until we were talking a mile-a-minute and singing hymns from his Anglican hymn-book ‘Hymns Ancient and Modern’.’
Later as I think about it, I find he was an extremely brave man. I was a hyperactive child, and he must have really wanted my company, because I’m sure I was going, going all day because of that coffee in the morning. I mean come on I was four years old! But almost every morning after that we would sit by the window, just sipping and singing and talking. That was very private time between my grandfather and myself. During those morning communes he became a surrogate father to me. He was my protector and my best-friend. We’d talk about all the little things, and tackle big ideas. He’d teach me about right and wrong, and about love. I was this fatherless little girl, who reached out, and my grandfather took my hand, even though it was only for a little while.
Those moments before the rest of the house woke up were filled with giggles and fun for me. My grand-parents became my co-conspirators in a secret coffee society. We eventually made friends with a little lizard that showed up every now and then. My grandfather would feed him little bits of crackers and jam, and dribble coffee onto the window sill for him to drink. So our reptilian friend became part of our little group. There’s a joke still being told in my family, about the day my grand-father and that lizard fell out. Grandad made the mistake of giving the lizard buttered crackers instead of the usual jam. The lizard gave my grandfather a look of disgust, as if to say “What you doing me at all?!” and walked away. He dropped out of the daily meeting for awhile, but soon returned. Of course, who turns down a free meal?
After my grandfather died I stopped drinking coffee. The taste of it was different ‹ bitter and not pleasant at all. However, I was a kid, so maybe my taste for it was coloured by my grandfather’s input. I guess it only tasted right when he poured it, mixed in the milk and sugar. He had a magic touch. Without it, coffee just wasn’t the same, mornings weren’t same. As I was growing up, my mother would command me to make a cup for her, and I would do so grudgingly, occasionally I would pour a little more milk or sugar in it, just for spite since I knew she only liked it with so much milk, so much sugar. I never tasted my mixings for my mother, in fact, I never drank coffee at all after that.
Until April, 1995. I went to Boston for a Writer’s Conference, and during an uncharacteristically boring panel discussion, I excused myself for a few minutes, planning to go outside and take a few deep breaths of crisp New England spring-time air. On the way out I passed the coffee table, and decided to have a cup. Why not? It’s supposed to perk you up right? It was weak coffee, but it hit a spot. For the rest of my trip, I was in and out of coffee shops, Dunk n’ Donuts chains, and anywhere that sold coffee and bagels with cream cheese. A new ritual was born.
While I was there, I bought a coffee machine, two large containers of coffee, filters and large jars of Coffee Mate. I wrestled them onto the plane home and I’ve been an caffeine addict ‹ rather, a committed coffee drinker ever since. I decided then and there I had to have a vice, and coffee won over drugs and promiscuous sex (neither of which appealed to me), and alcohol, (which isn’t all that bad, when you are at a party, and never in excess). Besides, it’s a family tradition and I knew it would cause less frowning in disapproval from my parents than say the drugs and promiscuous sex.
These days, if I don’t drink my coffee in the morning, it takes me hours to muster up the energy to work. I usually run out of energy early in the afternoon, and I’m grouchy, crabby (and more easily annoyed by the blatant stupidity of those that I assume are tea drinkers) when I don’t have my two cups of Java to start me off. Coffee defines my day sometimes. It’s the one thing I make sure not to run out of.
I take very good care of my coffee machine, because I hate instant coffee and would really have heart failure if my machine broke down (or sleep to death.) Coffee in the morning becomes a ritual just like it was when my grandfather was alive. When my parents come to visit, we drink together and talk or argue as the case may be, over a cup of the strong black stuff. Although, I must say, I resent having to wake up at the crack of dawn to make coffee for them, as the machine itself seems to mystify them both. They’re used to the old-fashioned percolators. I have found something new that connects me to my family. Now when I go home for a visit, and they are making the morning’s coffee, they add two cups for me.
I find the best cups though, are when I am at home alone. I set up the machine, and let it do it’s work; Commune with myself. I think my grandfather is there with me, making sure the right amount of everything goes in, and I talk to him in my head, continuing our morning tradition. When it’s really delicious, I think he’s trying to tell me the day will be great. More often than not it is.
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