MEMORY OF THE DAY: COFFEE
It’s funny what triggers some of these Memories of the Day. This morning at the chiropractor’s office I was chatting with the new doctor in the office and the subject of coffee came up. The young doctor, fairly new to our area asked where I liked to go for coffee. I responded that I liked to go to the Keurig in the kitchen, but my go-to coffee shops in Wake Forest, NC are Wake Forest Coffee Company in downtown Wake Forest and Bada Bean in a little strip mall near here. Well, now I’ve been thinking about coffee all day and what it has meant in my life.
I didn’t begin as much of a coffee drinker. In fact, as my brother Wayne likes to point out, I was a pretty dedicated tea drinker until I graduated from high school. He credits me for developing his love of hot tea. We both did have the occasional coffee flavored cup of milk growing up. In an earlier memory, I told of afternoon coffee breaks on the farm. About 3:00 PM every afternoon out in the field, my grandfather would load all the hands, and that usually included Wayne and me even when we were not really hands yet, into his pickup truck and head back to the house for coffee and snack before finishing the day in the field. Granddaddy would take his coffee with a little milk and pour if from his cup into the saucer to sip. He explained that the coffee cooled quicker in the saucer and he was able to get us all back to the field quicker. Wayne and I didn’t need to use a saucer to cool our “coffee.” Ours was about 1 part coffee to 6 parts milk. Here’s a blast from the past for ya. When I was little out on the farm I loved to see the Community Coffee truck come up the lane. They would stop by my grandparents’ home and grind the coffee for them on the truck. I loved the smell of freshly ground coffee. I’ve gotten too lazy to grind my own coffee, but I do love the smell.
My mother was always the first up in the mornings at our house. She would get up and get the percolator going and light up a Winston. Coffee and a cigarette were her breakfast on most mornings. I was always the second up and those smells still reside in the back of my memory. Can’t say I ever got to liking the cigarette smoke smell, but the coffee…now that was something special. I still drank my hot tea for breakfast, but I did love the smell of coffee brewing. For as long as I can remember, there was always a pot of coffee on in the kitchen all day long. It was always hot, not always fresh and after a couple hours could get boiled down to what appeared to be some kind of black sludge. That is when my dad would brew a fresh pot. Usually that was just before mom came home for lunch so she could have fresh coffee with her lunch. Dad worked from home so it was not a big thing for him to brew it up.
Here is a little coffee related side story inserted. My dad had a few idiosyncrasies. One was cleaning the percolator basket in the coffee pot. He would clean it whenever he made a fresh pot, but every now and then the little holes would clog up and make it hard for the water to flow through. We never used filters in those days. Normally on a Saturday afternoon while watching college football or maybe baseball on television, Dad would sit at the table in our dining room with the coffee basket and a needle. He would meticulously poke out all of the offending coffee grains from the holes until the basket was once again free flowing.
When I graduated from high school and was about to go work on a Mississippi riverboat as a deckhand, my dad suggested that I might want to learn to like drinking coffee. He gave me a piece of advice that I still follow. He told me that if I learned to like coffee “black” I would never be disappointed. So I learned to drink coffee with no milk and no sugar, just coffee. On the riverboat I worked the after watch. For you land lubbers that was the 6 hour shift that ran from noon to 6:00 PM and midnight to 6:00 AM. One of my tasks, especially in the midnight to 6:00 shift, was to take a fresh pot of coffee up to the pilot every hour during that watch. The boat’s cook taught me how to make an acceptable pot of coffee and I’ve never forgotten his recipe.
Back to mom and her coffee. I have no idea how much coffee she consumed each day, but it was a lot. See, coffee isn’t just a beverage in the South. It is a fellowship event. One reason there was always a pot of coffee on at our house is that it was there for anyone who happened to drop in. If they dropped in within a couple hours of brewing the pot, they got what was in the pot. Longer than that and someone would brew a fresh pot for the guest. Lots of Southern ladies also always had cakes or cookies to serve with the coffee. We didn’t have sweet cakes around all that often, but occasionally we would have some left over donuts in the kitchen. During the work week, mom always went on coffee break in the mid afternoon. She may have gone in the morning as well, but I don’t remember and never was available to join her on coffee breaks in the morning. For much of my early days she took her coffee at the James Rexall drugstore just across the street from the courthouse where mom worked. There were usually several ladies from the courthouse that went to coffee at the drugstore. I am pretty sure I remember seeing Mrs. Myrtle Littlefield and Mrs. Ida Ray Butler having coffee with mom as well as others. Occasionally Polly Jones (nee Philley), Mom’s lifelong best friend, would join them there. Later when the Rexall drugstore closed the coffee break moved to Gordon Smith’s drugstore just up the street. I liked to visit Gordon’s when I was home from college because they had my picture along with all of the 1963 Oak Grove Tiger football team lining the wall behind the soda fountain. Not sure when they replaced us, but expect it was shortly after Oak Grove won one of their many state championships.
From time to time I would join the ladies for the break and was treated to a fountain Coke. My guess is that when little sister Kellye Sue came along she often joined our mom at the drugstore for coffee break. When I got a lot older and was married with daughters of my own, they loved joining grandmother at the drugstore for coffee break. Funny, our older daughter Taryn Grant Peachey never did like coffee. She became a hot tea drinker and specifically a Lipton tea drinker. Our younger daughter, Lori Grant has become quite the coffee connoisseur. She loves her coffee. That could be more from necessity given the odd hours her career has her working most of the time. I do know that both of the girls loved anticipating going on coffee break with grandmother, and grandmother loved showing her granddaughters off at coffee break.
Dad was right. I learned how to drink my coffee black and still do. There is something comforting about a hot mug of coffee in your hands on a cold winter morning. Even more so if you are in the cold rainy forests of Germany during October or January. Perhaps the most welcome cup of coffee I have ever had in my life was on a mountain top in Germany in October of 1973. We had been in the field for nearly 6 weeks and were starting the long road march back to our headquarters in Kaiserslautern, Germany. I was tasked to climb to the top of a nearby mountain in my jeep, with my driver and observe the convoy as it left the bivouac area. It was cold and damp in that Black Forest exercise area and it was even colder on the mountain top. As we sat there and watched the convoys of trucks and jeeps head out for home I really wanted a cup of coffee. Then it struck me, I had an envelope of C-ration instant coffee in my pocket, I had a canteen of fairly fresh water on my pistol belt and I had my aluminum canteen cup. We had the jeep running so the engine was pretty warm. I filled my cup with water and placed it on the engine manifold to heat the water. It never got really hot, but did get pretty lukewarm. I mixed my C-ration coffee in the warm water and sipped the wonderful elixir. Amazing what you can do when necessary. Several people I know have heard me say that I miss mess hall coffee. The Army mess hall used just plain commissary coffee. It was generic and I have no idea what brand it may have been. It was hot, black, and strong; just the way I liked it.
Today, I still am getting up at about 5:00 AM and now I am the first up in my house. The second thing I do each morning is to turn off the security alarm and then make myself a fresh cup of coffee at the Keurig. Before that marvelous machine, I would brew a small pot of maybe 3 cups of coffee in the coffee maker. I limit myself to two cups in the morning and then in mid afternoon…I have COFFEE BREAK. I am not in the drugstore, but it is still something that I cherish. I am still not particular about what brand of coffee I drink, but I do drink it black. I’ve been asked what flavor I like for coffee and I always respond, I’ll have the coffee flavored.