Coffee

My first cup of coffee was at my great grandmother’s funeral. In life she used to offer it to all adult guests of her house, a thick murky liquid that had fermented in a carafe on her stove for an indefinite term, strong enough, they say, to put hair on your chest.

She did not have a coffee maker as is custom in the States. Every step up the creaky, leaning stairs toward her porch high up on the second floor caused time to turn backward a couple years or more; so that as one arrived at her screen door the surrounding time was one elsewhere long gone. If you had ignored or not noticed your time travel, it would be inescapably clear in a few minutes time, minutes that shredded more years with each click… click… click… of the walker as she moved to answer the door.

Past the door, one would sit with their coffee in a wood-paneled world of footed bathtubs and bubble televisions, talking, I suppose, about one’s health and other adult things. Perhaps, if sufficiently motivated (and if the listening icons and statuary did not object), one could have dragged otherworldly modernity into the talk, maybe, for example with an announcement about the invention of coffee makers and counter tops. None were ever such motivated.

Swinging my feet from atop the radiator, I would politely sip a disgustingly sweet sugar drink kept in stock “for the children,” calculating. Yes, this bright colored syrup was indeed better than the cow’s milk option (never surrender!); no, the purple one would not have been any more palatable than red; yes, beets were still on the enemy list for masquerading as cranberry sauce ten visits ago. Never again, beets. Never again.

Sitting next to my mother and grandmother, I was poured my first cup at the funeral luncheon. The women joked that it could serve as a right of passage into womanhood, moving each generation forward a notch with my entry sip, my taking of the empty cup.

It was my first and last sip. The awful taste was worse than the sugar. I had been taught not to give into social pressure for awful things, and at the wise old age of 11 I almost instantly invoked the clause (silently though, so as not spoil the moment). Never again coffee cup, never again.

Nana had owned other cups. They would surface occasionally during social anomalies, like when one had a tummy bug and preferred water, or tried milk. A commemorative tumbler of the first moon landing showed an astronaut bouncing around on the lunar surface, and small jam jars had been turned into cups so as not to waste good glass. These cups told the future which followed from the creaky old house on the second floor, one of Star Trek and space travel and resourcefulness with things already known.

This future, or at least the one I chose to remember, followed interest over position. It cared not for notches and countertops.