An Awful Lot of Coffee

January 12, 2011 § 6 Comments

On Wednesdays I attend a writer’s critique group. As I go, I ‘drive-thru’ Dunkin Donuts® to place my order. I say, “A medium coffee—” and a voice interrupts my mantra, saying “…with 6 Splenda® and cream, you like it light, and you’re a senior.” The senior part is important; the discount may only be a few cents, but eventually that adds up to a free cup. But notice, the DD folk know my voice! (I think they have a camera, too, but that’s beside the point.) This drinking coffee has become ritual.

The ever-present presence!

Laying aside the benefits, or dangers, of a drink laced with an addictive substance, coffee is a good example of my Hilger-Summers’ genes at work. I come from a long line of coffee drinkers.

The Summers’ house morning routine began when Dad arose at dawn-thirty, switched on the coffee maker prepared the night before, ate his cereal, drank two cups of coffee—one while watching the dog run—got dressed, drank the rest of the pot, prepared another pot for mother and turned it on, then walked to school, where he wrote (seven books over the years) until time for his first class. [I just realized that we always lived within walking distance of Dad’s teaching post – amazing!]

Mother arose with the smell of her fresh coffee brewing, sat down to a breakfast of cereal, toast and newspaper, before she started her writing day. I believe that when we were children, she fed us first and got us off to school before the “sitting down to coffee and newspaper” part got a chance, but she persevered.

As you can see, it’s in the genes. But coffee wasn’t always my drink of choice. As a child I took one sip of Dad’s strong brew and eschewed the ‘black poison’ for another 29 years. I drank milk (wonderful stuff until they took all the fat out of it!); iced tea (house wine of the south); Grapette®, Dr Pepper® and Coke® (when I had my own money to buy them); Kool-Aid (grape is the best); I even drank an occasional cup of hot tea (with milk, not lemon). I just never graduated to coffee. For me, the aroma didn’t live up to its promise!

In 1954—I was 10—our family traveled to Europe for Dad’s sabbatical. For the uninitiated, that’s a university or seminary granted study year to research and write. We spent the winter term in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the spring term in Bäsel, Switzerland.

That first morning in Bäsel, I woke up to the smell of fresh bread baking. Glorious! How disappointed I felt when Dad told me the smell was actually roasting coffee! They roast coffee? I thought it came in a tin can!

I couldn’t believe it. How could that delicious smell end up as that vile brew! I felt betrayed. Through Jr. High, High, undergraduate and graduate school, I never drank one drop. And then I was appointed a music missionary in 1977 and landed in Brasil in February 1978. (Brasil is the português spelling!) No one can live in that wonderful country and be sociable without drinking coffee. At the age of 35, I resolved to be sociable!

I drank café com leite (half coffee/half hot milk) for breakfast and supper. Cafezinho (think demitasse, strong and sweet) waited for us in the Faculty Lounge at O Seminário Teológico Batista do Norte do Brasil. And if I happened to be standing in line at the bank at 2 PM, I never said no to the young person, whose sole responsibility was to make and serve free cafezinho to everyone several times a day. Brasileiros take their coffee drinking seriously. They also take their coffee STRONG and SWEET.

At first I only drank cafezinho as a social nicety. But gradually I grew to like the stuff, so much so that when I returned stateside after my first term (4 years) I detested the weak coffee served in restaurants here.

After two terms in Brasil I returned to the US to marry, and Tom and I soon discovered that if I made the coffee, he had to put on the water to boil. I made it too strong even for him!

I still like strong coffee, sweet and with cream. As I write this I am sipping on a cup. The sustaining liquid has supported me through long nights of writing (I get my best work done after Tom goes to bed – no interruptions), and have produced three novels (out searching for an agent!), short stories, articles, The Creative Writer’s Notebook (once a month) and now this blog.

I think I should have bought stock in Folgers long ago—or maybe Dunkin Donuts®.


§ 6 Responses to An Awful Lot of Coffee

  • When my husband owned both a restaurant and a general store, he roasted his own coffee. I went from drinking anything to being super-picky. Amazing how the culture of coffee can evoke such passion!

  • Agreed: coffee is the nectar of the gods.

  • Vanessa Russell says:

    Travelling in Europe is what got me addicted to coffee, too – certainly not here before that. Now I get excited when I hear “white coffee”!

  • Judy Ransom says:

    I like mine strong, too! A delightful post, Mary Lois!

  • I also have an affinity for DD coffee, though not with sugar and cream of which I get a sufficient amount with an accompanying sweet treat. :o)

    My love of coffee didn’t begin until I was 42 years old. I always loved the smell of the brew, but the taste to me was nasty. I always said it tasted like the smell of cigarettes (which I detested). Only when we moved to Northfield, Minnesota, a heavily populated Norwegian community, that I began to appreciate coffee, strong coffee. It seemed that everywhere I went folks just automatically set a cup of coffee in front of me and so, to be polite, I would slowly sip on it. Eventually, of course, the caffeine grabbed hold of me. Periodically, throughout the years I have decaffeinated myself, but always falling back into the heart-starting brew.

    Thanks for the memory, Mary Lois!

  • http;// says:

    I learned to drink coffee from my husband. He was the photographer at the Baltimore Zoo when he hired me to be the illustrator in the Graphics Department. It was a trial-by-fire introduction to java as he always drank it black and strong.

    Nearly forty years later I’m still drinking his coffee.

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