When I was a kid, the only coffee in our house was instant. I can’t remember what brand we had---I think Maxwell House---but my mom lived on it. She worked a hard schedule and then had to take my stepdad to work and pick him up, then start all over again, catching a few hours of sleep here and a few there. All while managing also to spend time with me and tote me to wherever I needed to be. What a woman! Seems like she at least deserved to have some good coffee. We never had a coffeemaker in our house, unless you count the stovetop espresso pot that I am not sure we ever used. I think that was actually mine. I have a newer version of it now, a sleek red, in which I can brew up some Cuban coffee when I’m missing Miami. If only Cuban bread were so easy to come by up here. When we were last in New Jersey, I got a loaf, but it’s just not the same up north.
My grandparents, on the other hand, had a Mr. Coffee drip coffeemaker when I was a kid and on up until they died. They retired fairly early and I remember coffee at a much more leisurely pace at their house. We’d all sit around the breakfast table talking in the mornings. My grandmom would make pancakes on her big griddle on Saturdays and there would be orange juice from concentrate for us kids. When I helped make it, the final product was always a little less intense, I think, because I loved to nibble on the still-mostly-frozen juice can contents before dumping them into my grandmom’s Tupperware juice container and mix, mix, mixing it up. I always thought juice glasses, those petite things, were ridiculous and took mine in the bigger green glasses or in one of the anodized aluminum cups in bright colors. We also had some plastic toy soldier cups, but mostly we used those in the tub.
Back in those days, my cousins lived close enough that we got to play together all the time. It was like having brothers. That was a good and a bad thing. They were fun to play with and they also tormented me, as most brothers do, summoning me to come see something cool they found (which would turn out to be a snake) or challenging one another to contests of who could pee farthest off the flat garage roof, a challenge I couldn’t take on.
When I was older, I would stay weekends and whole weeks with my grands. In seminary, I would sit at the breakfast table watching the birds with them. My granddad and I would tell each other what we’d dreamed about. Unlike my mom, who was strictly a black coffee girl, they both took it with cream. When I was a kid, I recall them having a cow creamer container, although that may have actually been for the milk. When I was breakfasting with them as an adult, they had milk for the cereal (very frequently some variety of Chex) in a speckled blue and white pitcher. It went into coffee, too. We would, if not having cereal, munch on toast with my granddad’s favorite orange marmalade.
Sometimes, they had to rush off to table tennis games, water workout, Ruth Circle or Bible Study at church. Other times, my granddad would head down to the basement to talk to his ham radio buddies or tinker away on some project of the house or car. I was always fascinated with his basement work room, lined with shelves full of old metal coffee cans, the sort we used to take on road trips to pee in. I once peed in a Folger’s can on the way up Pike’s Peak.
Anyway, Clydie’s cans were full of all kinds of interesting bits and pieces. Nails of every size and variety. Nuts and bolts. Magnets. Random small items he could magic into place to create all kinds of useful household items. He once made a toothbrush holder from PVC pipe and his cars all featured some kind of jerry-rigging he’d come up with to improve function. My mom still drives his old silver Ford Taurus, the one with the tricky bypass switch you have to turn on at just the proper time, in order to be able to start the car. Now, though, her coffee comes from a French press.