It's a cold, nasty late-October morning. We are expecting a nor'easter that is predicted to dump four to seven inches of snow on our little hamlet on the Hudson. This will be our first measurable snow in October since 1952. I think this is a perfect time to talk about...coffee.
My parents are big coffee drinkers. When I was growing up, my dad got up early every morning to make a pot for my mom. He drank it too, and so did my Grandma, but the story always was that the coffee was a gift of love for Mom. She could not function in the mornings without it. Dad was happy to oblige. He cheerfully got up before the sun and ground the beans and perked the coffee. Back then, in the early seventies, coffee was not brewed. It was perked, either in a big tin pot that sat on the stove, or, later, in an automatic percolator that sat on the counter. I don't know the etymology of the word "perk," and I'm too lazy to look it up, but I'd guess, off the top of my head, that it had something to do with the sound made by the percolator. Perk-perk-perk. The percolator always had a glass knob on top, and you could see the coffee perk-perk-perking through the knob.
It perked Mom up, too. You were not permitted to speak to her or ask for anything before she had had her morning coffee. If something drastic happened before she had had her coffee, that fact would be essential in the retelling. She would tell one of the other moms on our street, "The phone rang on Friday morning. It was the police. They called before I had had my coffee." And the other mom would cluck sympathetically.
Later, my grandma had some heart problems, so she switched over to Sanka. Sanka was instant decaffeinated coffee that came in little individual packets. I can still see Grammy standing in the kitchen in her green bathrobe, whacking her little orange packet of Sanka against the edge of the counter to settle its contents before she ripped it open. I think the fact that restaurants put an orange plastic rim on their coffee pots, to signify decaf, is an homage to Sanka and its distinctive packaging.
Coffee wasn't a big deal when I went off to college. I never really developed a taste for it. When I needed caffeine (which was fairly often), I drank Diet Coke. I stuck with that until the nice doctors at the college health service advised me to stop. (Extreme amounts of caffeine can cause or aggravate all kinds of maladies that plague young women, like bladder infections, heart palpitations, and cystic breast disease. Not to mention what it does to sleep patterns.) I discovered herbal tea and have been a big decaffeinated tea drinker ever since.
I do enjoy the occasional cup of coffee. When I was working in the city, I became a fan of Starbucks and their various latte drinks, which generally contain more milk than coffee. I drank a lot of them, mostly decaf. Now, once a week, I meet with a group of neighborhood women for a cup of coffee and a chat. It was my turn to host this past week, and I got myself a nice new Cuisinart coffee machine for the occasion. It's white, which means it needs to be wiped down lovingly after each use, lest it develop brown coffee stains all over it.
One of my son's dearest friends is a boy named Juan. Juan's family comes from Colombia, and Juan drinks coffee. We don't usually serve coffee to young people in my house, but Juan insists, like my mother, that he can't get his day going without it. In the beginning, when he slept over at our house, we refused him a cup of coffee. He told us, however, that all children drink coffee in Colombia, and that his parents would not let him sleep over any more unless we provided it. (I know his mom pretty well, and I am fairly sure that the latter assertion is false. But I didn't call him on it - I just handed over the coffee.)
So here we sit at the breakfast table, me with my herbal tea, my son with a cold glass of milk, and Juan with his steaming cup of coffee, freshly poured from my fancy new machine. The sleet and rain are swirling outside, and I am thinking about what should go into the crockpot tonight. It's going to be a good night for it!