Year of a Hundred Things – “Thing” #95 “Coffee”

I am not addicted to coffee.

Well, I may have a slight addiction, but that’s only because I can’t control the fact that the substance I love, that to which I am deeply enculturated and habituated, has in it, much to my dismay, a significant amount of caffeine.

No, I do not drink it for the “charge.” Anyone who knows me will tell you that I don’t need the charge. In fact, I don’t need one tiny micro percent of the charge. I am on all the time. My husband and friends have looked. I have no off switch.

Coffee is a very real, visceral representation of home for me.

When I was in preschool, my mother would take me to my grandparents very early in the morning. She was a surgical nurse and had to be at the hospital long before school started. My Abuelo Louis worked for La Segunda Central Panaderia, which still stands tody as one of the best Cuban bakeries in Tampa. Every day, I would find my Abuela in the kitchen struggling with the aftermath of Abuelo’s breakfast and on the counter waiting for me was an 8oz baby’s bottle filled with the most wonderful elixir in the universe: café con leche.

It didn’t matter that the amount of sugar and evaporated milk turned it into rocket fuel. It only mattered that it was the first sign that my daily routine had begun. She would patiently listen to me prattle on while I waited the few minutes for Abuelo to be ready to go. She struggled to answer, four strokes having entirely taken muscle control from her left side. I had a little girl’s limited understanding and couldn’t perceive how hard her daily life was. But I remember that bottle full of coffee and her frustration and amusement at answering my constant barrage of questions and after all that illness had done to her body, she was still lovely and elegant, with a radiant smile.

So, coffee means far more to me than just a means to get caffeine in my blood. It instantly reminds me of a time when my café con leche, my fresh pan Cubano and my little blue school uniform were guaranteed, as was my Abuela’s quiet strength. Each time I drink it, I get a very old peace.

Lamplight

Creaking.

Shifting weight in the old rocker under a tattered manta, wrapping it tighter. Cold, the uncomfortable intruder.

I wish I were a girl again, half-savage and hardy, and free. The pages were so heavy with time that no whisper remained as she closed the cover. Worn, fraying, faded.

Sigh.

Setting the old book on the low table, she threw off the manta and reluctantly set her woollened feet on the floor, scarred and grooved, groaning and squeaking. The leathers protested as the rockers bore all her weight for the moment she took to stand.

Deep, noisy breath broke the stillness as a smile forced its way up from her belly, her arms stretched to their full length. Another deep breath and the footfall accelerated in ernest. Cold, the ultimate motivator.

The lamp sat quietly on the old oak sideboard, rust pock-marked the bright red enamel of its curves. A kaleidoscope of colors swirled in the glass, burned in over decades. It seemed that there was never enough paraffin to keep the old thing burning brightly. She turned the cap gently, and filled the reservoir counting to five, squinting as the fumes rose, strong and sharp. Full for now. Nearly gone were the ridges of the tiny regulator’s wheel, but the movement was smooth and with a shhhhh the flame once again burned high enough to flood warm, yellow light into every corner of the room.

Back to the quiet corner, only just a few quick steps, she grinned widely as she sat, wrapped again in her still brightly colored manta, picking up the new book. Lighter with time, but thick with images crafted from words woven into brilliant, wildly colored tapestries. New, gifted to her by hearts and minds so rich with their own words.

She opened, listening for the whisper as the pages popped to life. Page 1.