Coffee and Home

Monday Morning Musings:

 “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

–J.R.R. Tolkien

 

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

–Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

This universe must be home

(has always been home)

I wake warm and comfortable

drink coffee

(always coffee)

live mornings of caramel joy

remember a voice

a smile

cats

celebrate a secret sky waking

 

I wake to the smell of coffee

a childhood memory,

an adult reality,

a scent wafting through time

am image, too, coffee cups and morning newspapers

spread across the kitchen table

(now joined by laptops and phones),

the table in my young childhood home

lived in the kitchen-dining-den space—

my mother hated it—the space, not the table–

and when I was teen, she, no longer with my father,

bought a house with a separate dining room,

a large, center-hall house with five bedrooms

that became too much for her to keep up with

but it was the house by which my siblings and I later measured all other houses.

In that dining room, my boyfriend, now husband, learned about Sunday brunches

with lox, blocks of cream cheese, bagels, herring, boiled new potatoes, and crusty rye bread–

and on the little enclosed porch we’d sit before a fire late on Saturday nights and drink coffee and consume the treats, fried and sweet, from Dunkin Donuts, wiping sugar from our faces with paper napkins and kisses.

 

Food and friendship, more valuable than gold,

I eat Vietnamese food with a friend

we laugh and talk

she tells me (I had forgotten) that she dislikes tomatoes

then is surprised to find them in her stir fry,

we laugh and talk

I slurp vermicelli noodles with extra hot sauce

and we sit, chatting and catching up,

her mother’s house, her childhood home, sold

she is pleased that the new owners seem like good people

another family for the house

to imbue it with new dreams,

the old ones will fade from the walls

like night shadows gradually erased by the dawn

 

We don’t order coffee

though we laugh and talk for two hours,

the restaurant owners, mother and daughter, probably eager for us to go,

but we’re enchanted by the little girl, daughter of one, granddaughter of the other,

eighteen months old

she blows kisses and says good-bye.

 

A few days later, my husband and I go to a first communion party

the daughter of a daughter of long-time friends

we sat with them every Friday night in their first house

a TGIF Sabbath meal each week of dollar hoagies and beer

we were there when our friend went into labor with the daughter whose daughter

we’re celebrating at this party

where I sit and talk the entire time with another friend, my twin

though her skin is darker, her hair shorter,

we’re twins of the heart

we wear our matching bracelets

talk about another friend who could not be there

but who is linked to us

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New Year’s Eve, 2016 We are linked, heading into 2017.

 

and catch up on news, share photos, her sons, my daughters,

it’s a miserable day, cold and raining, more like March than May

but warmed by friendship

 

After that, my husband and I travel to my daughter’s house

bringing wine for her and her husband,

we laugh about all the wine we’ve ordered

delivered to our door all in one day in three large boxes

so that the UPS man thinks we’re having a party

we eat Pakistani food with them at a nearby restaurant,

the genial owner recommends dishes,

“We have new items”, he says,

“try the spring rolls, vegetarian.”

They are different from Chinese spring rolls,

delicious, though not as good as the vegetable samosas,

our favorites,

my daughter and I share the platter,

everything is delicious, eggplant, vegetable korma, naan, the goat our husbands have

(I suppose)

“Always a pleasure to see you,” the owner says as we leave,

and we assure him that it’s always a pleasure to visit his restaurant,

and it is, even on a cold and rainy night.

 

In the morning, a package of chocolate covered strawberries arrives,

a special Sunday delivery,

from my other daughter and her wife,

a thoughtful present,

a scrumptious treat for Mother’s Day

even first thing in the morning.

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Later I will talk to her on the phone,

hear about her trip to national parks in Utah

(while they still exist)

learn about her surprising facility for rock climbing

and allergy to Los Vegas

I miss seeing her, but it is good to hear her voice

from across the miles

 

We have lunch at my sister’s house

where we take my mother for Mother’s Day

 

Before lunch H. had made a grand entrance,

“Hi, I have to pee and sprints through the living room.”

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We later talk about the house she and her husband have fixed up to sell.

It was their first home, bought with an inheritance from my father,

her voice breaks a bit as she describes painting over the clouds in her first baby’s room.

The sun is out, and we sit for the garden for a bit

though it gets windy

My family is goofy and wonderful

I love them

 

I’ve baked a flourless chocolate cake

because there must be chocolate

 

 

and my sister buys, rather than brews, coffee

from Dunkin’ Donuts to have with it,

which makes me think again of those long-ago days

I think of all the mothers and daughters

the houses we’ve lived in

the coffee we’ve consumed

and despite all that is wrong in the world

I’m happy to wake in the morning to my coffee, newspapers, and cats,

to my husband saying, “Can I pour you another cup?”

 

The joys,

transitory like the flowers that have recently bloomed

 

but no less beautiful for that

timeless in our memories

the sky has cleared in the morning,

there is a half-moon hanging crookedly in the sky humming a song of hope

I go inside and pour a cup of coffee

a cat settles on my lap

this universe must be home

especially if there is coffee

–and love

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A Day at the Beach, with a Side of Guilt

Monday Morning Musings:

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“Like as waves make towards the pebbled shore,

so do our minutes, hasten to their end.”

William Shakespeare, “Sonnet 60”

 

“The idea was fantastically, wildly improbable. But like most fantastically, wildly improbable ideas it was at least as worthy of consideration as a more mundane one to which the facts had been strenuously bent to fit.”

–Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

Fantastically, wildly improbable,

but worthy of consideration,

a plan to get my mom to the beach for the day.

A notion hatched by H.

on Saturday afternoon, for the next day.

Younger daughter and I already had plans

because we like things set in advance,

definite, not tentative,

BUT

we decide to go along with this wildly improbable,

but worthy of consideration idea,

despite the weather forecast.

Isn’t it supposed to thunderstorm?

(My first question to H.)

Texts and phone calls back and forth.

 “Jewish guilt will always force a change in plans.”

(Daughter says to me.)

So plans evolve.

We’ll travel in the morning,

have lunch there

and return home early to avoid the traffic.

Husband and I will still get together

with daughter and her husband later for dinner.

A horrible, wonderful, wildly improbable idea,

a beach day for my mom.

 

Three cars from three destinations travel to Ocean City, NJ.

It’s a Seinfeld episode,

or any sitcom,

the human comedy,

the comedy of errors

What could possibly go wrong?

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My husband and I are the first to arrive in Ocean City.

We drive around, looking for a place to park the car.

We park.

The downpour begins.

I text the others

We’re here.

We’re sitting in the car

Waiting for the rain to stop.

Trying to be optimistic.

Oh, I hear thunder now.

Daughter replies

There’s a flood watch in effect.

All day.

But the skies clear,

the sun comes out

and my husband and I walk to the beach.

The sun is shining.

The beach looks washed and clean.

It is beautiful.

Daughter and her husband arrive.

They have met

H., her family, and my mom,

who have decided to walk on the boardwalk.

They will have lunch there.

We have packed our lunch,

but I expect we’ll see them soon.

Daughter and I walk on the beach,

walk and talk,

gazing at the ocean

looking at the gulls,

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watching people,

the little boy who wanders in circles,

shovel in hand,

smile on face,

I keep expecting H. to text me

so we can help them

get my mom onto the beach.

I don’t want them to miss this beautiful day.

But no text.

We return to our beach chairs.

Daughter sits down with half a PB&J sandwich,

she takes one bite,

I hear a scream,

a gull has snatched the sandwich from her hand.

Scary, but kind of amazing.

We wait for H.,

and watch dark clouds moving in.

We wonder where they are,

she hasn’t answered the texts.

It’s getting close to when we planned to leave.

A beach checker comes by.

Do you have beach tags?

We don’t.

We decide to pack up,

and wait for H and family on the boardwalk.

Daughter sees them then–of course.

H. has paid for a special wheelchair contraption to get my mom onto the beach.

My mom can’t get into it.

So my mom holds H’s arm on one side

mine on the other, and

we begin a slow walk over sand,

a few feet that seem like miles.

H’s husband sets up their umbrella and chairs,

and it begins to rain.

My husband and daughter have packed up our things.

We leave my mom with H’s family on the beach,

feeling guilty,

but it stops raining.

at least for a time.

 

In the evening, after showers and rest

my husband and I eat pizza and drink wine

with our daughter and her husband,

dog and cat sitting with us companionably.

We watch an old Star Trek movie,

it also involves fantastically, wildly impossible ideas,

but we know Captain Picard and his crew will triumph over

the creepy Borg Queen,

love, friendship, kindness, and creativity

trump evil,

humanity will be saved

once again,

a comforting thought.

I haven’t heard yet what happened

with H., her family, and my mom.

I hope they had a great time on the beach.

It’s a fantastically, improbable idea

but one worthy of consideration.

 

 

 

 

 

Legacies

Monday Morning Musings:

 

I called my mother

just to say, “hi,”

a seemingly inconsequential chat

that opened a door to an unknown world.

We talked about the house my younger daughter will soon have

the number of bedrooms, the bathroom–

and suddenly my mother remembers

as though hurtling back in time.

 

When my mother was little

she tells me,

she sometimes visited her grandmother

and stayed overnight,

the house had a summer kitchen

where they kept pickles,

her unmarried aunts lived on the third floor

they placed a bucket there at night

because there was only one bathroom in that house,

on the second floor

where the artist, her cousin, Abraham Hankins, lived for a time.

Sometimes there were other boarders, too.

Was it convenience or concern for propriety

and the virtue of unmarried women

that caused the bucket,

the literal pot to piss in

to be a fixture of that third floor room?

Who emptied it? That is what I wonder.

A question that will never be answered.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

around four years old,

she had diphtheria.

It’s an ancient disease,

described by Hippocrates,

it can cause the throat and other membranes to swell,

It can be fatal.

There may have been an epidemic that year in Philadelphia,

there were several diphtheria epidemics in the 1920s,

thousands of people, mostly children, used to die from the disease*

before there was an effective vaccine.

(Were those the good old days?)

An ambulance took my mother to the hospital,

her father didn’t have a car,

they had no way to get her there,

they also didn’t have a telephone.

I wonder who called the ambulance?

She remembers–

she says this a few times–

She remembers

her mother standing there

watching and crying

watching her daughter, my mother, being taken away.

My mother dropped her doll,

and they—whoever they were—

would not give it back to her.

She doesn’t say she was sad or scared

but she remembers this,

losing her doll.

The memory has been with her

for almost ninety years now.

They must have thought it contaminated and germ-ridden,

though they didn’t give her a reason,

or she doesn’t remember.

It doesn’t matter now, but–

I hope they were kind to my four-year-old mother.

When she was finally well,

well enough to come home,

her mother made her oatmeal,

comfort food.

The image of her mother crying seems to haunt my mother.

I suppose she seldom saw my grandmother cry.

My grandparents were immigrants,

no nonsense people.

But I have a different image of my grandmother now,

a young woman fearful that her little girl,

her only child, was dying.

This wasn’t supposed to happen in America.

 

When my mother was little,

she tells me,

her mother spent time curling her, my mother’s hair,

wrapping it around a finger to form a ringlet,

a tender gesture, as I imagine it.

But my grandmother was constantly interrupted by customers,

customers arriving in their candy store.

My grandmother took care of store and household

because my grandfather also worked another job.

Home and shop were separated by two stairs,

a boundary of sorts,

a division between two worlds.

My grandmother muttered about those two steps,

up and down all day long.

I imagine my grandmother,

a small woman, like her sisters,

complaining in a mixture of Yiddish and English,

cursing those two stairs.

 

And now my mother is little again

little in height,

not that she was ever tall,

but now she has shrunk several inches,

though her formerly slender body is now large,

These are my earliest memories

she tells me,

as we talk on the phone that morning,

her voice emerging from her little-large body.

These early memories

of people and places long gone

of a way of life that no longer exists.

Someday my mother won’t be here

but her memories

a legacy

like her curls,

I carry both.

Her memories will

float around the Internet

perhaps forever,

or

until something replaces them,

and perhaps my own daughters will write

of my memories on some device that I can’t imagine.

But for now,

my memories and hers blend together here,

in her telling them to me,

her memories become mine,

they now belong to me as well,

colored by my perceptions and imagination.

I think of a grandmother I didn’t know,

who cried when she feared her daughter would die,

who lovingly curled that same daughter’s hair

And I share that image with you.

 

* “During the 1920s in the United States, 100,000–200,000 cases of diphtheria (140–150 cases per 100,000 population) and 13,000–15,000 deaths were reported each year. In 1921, a total of 206,000 cases and 15,520 deaths were reported.” CDC

 

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