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The Coffee of a Lifetime

Updated on March 4, 2013

One of my most memorable coffees has a flavor that gets more distinct and recognizable every year. When I have this rare brew, it's always an autumn day, and my father and I have spent the afternoon working outside, raking and burning leaves, or cleaning out the garden, or winterizing a car and then washing our hands in gasoline that always somehow feels much colder than the weather. We sit on the concrete steps of the back porch, having that warm, brown coffee and resting before we go inside to clean up and cook dinner. Relaxed by the day’s exercise, he’ll mumble something, and although in reflex I only glance at him, my eyes are magnetized and quickly return to his face. He’s almost in profile, looking out into the yard, squinting a little into the setting sun that shines dull red on his skin. He tilts his head down to sip his coffee, and I notice the gray stubble on his cheek and the thinning white hair that curls out from under the paint-spattered blue knit cap that sits, as it always has, precariously on the back of his head. A dog barks behind the neighbor’s house, so expectantly my father and I look out into the next yard, not knowing what will come into view. We sit together on the hard steps of the back porch, breathing deeply the cooling air and soaking in the last of the setting sun.

In my Navy years, the best coffee was on the 4-8 watch, especially when we were at sea in the tropics. With the crew asleep and the six 12-cylinder diesels snoring steadily like a group of drunken giants, the ship was peaceful, and I’d push open the weatherdeck door to watch the rising sun melt the night sky. I’d turn my back to all the alarms and gauges and lean against the doorway, listen to the black water sliding along our iron hull, and, waiting for enough light to distinguish the horizon, just look out into the fading darkness. With each gentle roll of the ship the warm salt air would breathe in and out of my little iron cave, ruffling papers on the desk, and I’d be sipping not the day’s first but its best cup of “joe.”

In the autumn mornings of my junior year in college my girlfriend and I would walk hand in hand to the edge of Penn State’s main campus to The Ye Olde College Diner, open 24 hours a day for something like the past 47 years. We’d get a cavernous wooden booth with dark Naugohyde seats and have a big blueberry pancake breakfast, and then, in no hurry to go anywhere, we would sit and talk and sip coffee and smoke menthol cigarettes, sometimes holding each other’s hand across the heavy wooden table. On rainy, cold days The Diner was usually subdued and hushed, even cozy, but on bright, crisp, colorful October Saturdays The Diner serviced hundreds of fad-wearing students and their visiting families, all anticipating a day at the football game and tailgates, all talking at once. We would catch bits of conversation, just a phrase or name or a laugh, but mostly the voices blended together into a hum above the scrape and scuffle of tables and chairs being moved and adjusted, the clink of heavy ceramic dishes and the tinkle of silverware, and the bangs and shouts and clatter from the kitchen. And my girlfriend’s soft voice, quiet and pretty, separate from the noise . . . The coffee at The Diner never again tasted as good as it did during that autumn with Lori.

There were three winters that held the best Sunday morning coffee I’ve ever known. Separately we’d stumble into the kitchen, my girlfriend, her son, her mother, and me, and with the appearance of each new face we’d contest who had the morning’s worst bed-head hair. We’d have bacon and cheese and tomato on English muffins, eggs scrambled with scallions, and breakfast sweetcakes, and we’d lounge around in sweat pants and wool sweaters and thick socks, reading the Sunday paper and recounting the week’s adventures. Her sister had taken to driving 45 minutes to be there for coffee, and almost every week her ex-neighbor and long-time friend joined us, once even driving over in her houserobe and slippers. Occasionally her other son or some of the boys’ friends would show up, and they’d trade young men’s stories of wild Saturday nights, entertaining us all. On those bleak winter mornings when no one wants to bother going anywhere, still people would come to Suzanne’s kitchen, and Sunday morning coffee often lasted way past noon.

Those three winters with her have also borne a new tradition: Christmas coffee. Ethiopian Sidamo, New Guinea Peaberry, Sulawesi . . . Shopping for it, lingering among the bins of fresh gourmet beans, has become my duty and, for me, another sign that the holiday season is at its peak, just like the sight of nearly empty Christmas tree lots. Christmas morning we’d know that we had special coffee, but still everyone tore off the wrapping to discover the flavors. Three generations lounging together under the Christmas tree, losing our coffee mugs under discarded wrapping paper, admiring each others’ gifts and playing with ridiculous toys, pushing the overly affectionate and easily distracted dog toward any other family member, lying on the floor near the fireplace and wanting nothing ever to change: now that’s Christmas.

We do lazy mornings in the summertime, too. There are those easy mornings out on the shaded deck, reading the newspaper and with a bare foot mindlessly rubbing the dog’s belly, glancing up at the blue sky and having just one more cup before going in to the office . . . And there are those mornings when I’m the first to awaken on family vacation at the beach house, especially that first morning there, that first morning I wake up free of my normal work routine: while I wait for everyone else I sit outside with a cup of coffee, just damn glad to be there and not in a hurry to do anything, the sun warm on my cheek, the ocean sparkling in my eyes, the cries of gulls and the smell of sand, all of it sifting memories into my morning’s slow thoughts . . .

You have to drink coffee for a couple of years before it wets that certain part of your tongue and warms that certain part of your belly, and then you start finding many cups that taste especially good. There’s the coffee had after a truly exhausted and refreshing sleep, and there’s the cup poured for you as you return from driving barefoot and un-showered to fetch donuts on a hot Saturday morning. There’s the precious mud had with a hangover, when you sit thoughtless and stare into your mug at the shiny reflections from the oil of the coffee beans. There’s the coffee used to kill time between job interviews, and there are those endless cups in the middle of a day when you just don’t want to go home or do anything but let your life roll around in your head. There is, of course, that wonderful cup lingered over after a good dinner when you want an excuse not to get up and leave your favorite restaurant. There’s the roadie cup as you commute to work on a cold and oppressively gray morning, and there are those delicious cups – preciously limited in a lifetime – poured from a Thermos as you drive alone across several states straight through an empty winter night for the sake of young love.

The best coffee ever? I don’t know . . . it might be the cup I’ll have as I watch the face of a friend as she reads what I’ve written here. We’ll see; the best coffee can’t be brewed, only poured.

Did this hub make you want to come to Suzanne's for Sunday coffee? Christmas morning?

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If you love coffee, maybe you should read these hubs:

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    • Austinstar profile image

      Austinstar 4 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Now that's what I call a coffee mug! Better than my beer boot for sure.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      P.S. No wonder it won the "Hubnugget Award". Congratulations!

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 5 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      I enjoyed this hub while sipping my coffee. Love the photo and that huge coffee cup. Cheers from a coffee lover!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Brett Winn, thank you! I'll be looking for YOUR coffee stories here on the Hub . . .

    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 5 years ago from US

      We have coffee stories in my family, too. I loved this read ... thanks so much for sharing! Voted up!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      rebekahELLE, thank you! It is such great fun to get comments like yours! You know how it is - we sit here at our keyboards writing about memories and daydreams, and sometimes we wonder if we shouldn't be out somewhere instead, making new memories, and then we get a nice comment . . . and instantly our writing is so gratifying! Thank you!

    • rebekahELLE profile image

      rebekahELLE 5 years ago from Tampa Bay

      I'm here via capricornrising's hub about some of her favorite hubs, and I'm so glad I stepped into this delightful read. You make me want to wake up early just to see the sunrise with a hot cup of coffee in my nestled in my hands. I love these stories, and I know you must have many to tell. I'm looking forward to reading more of your hubs!

      Welcome to HubPages, enjoy!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Eaglekiwi, thank you for the heartfelt comment! Your emotions about coffee were certainly carried through the words of your comment. It's always good to meet another member of our tribe (the Coffee = Life Tribe, that is!)

      Also, not only is coffee the 2nd most used commodity in the world (as you noted), it is also the ONLY Cosmic Substance packaged and distributed for retail use!

    • Eaglekiwi profile image

      Eaglekiwi 5 years ago from -Oceania

      I dont even know you,yet because of the common love of coffee and all of its tantalising memories I consider you a trusted friend.

      Ahh the allure of a good coffee-

      Did you also know ,that after oil ,coffee is the 2nd most used commodity in the world!!

      Thank-you God for the Arabica bean,thats all I gotta say ,oh and a fantastic Hub.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 5 years ago from London

      Windclimber, thanks very much for the link! That's very kind. Good coffee is indeed a great incentive to get up in the morning. I would like to link to your hub too.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Moon Daisy, thank you! FYI, I added a link to your "Caffeine is Magic" poem. Just like you, sometimes I lie in bed in the morning, awakened pre-dawn, and the thought that gets me up and on my feet is "Coffee!"

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 5 years ago from London

      Hub-love! I love reading about coffee, especially when the author really appreciates coffee too. Something magical about it, and almost as good as drinking the stuff! Great descriptions, and really lovely coffee memories. I think that good coffee helps make good memories.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      kat11, thank you, especially since you're not a coffee fan / addict! I think you got the secondary point of this piece, that there's much more to a cup of coffee than just the drink! Thanks!

    • kat11 profile image

      kat11 5 years ago from Illinois

      Great hub voted up. I don't drink coffee but do enjoy the way coffee smells when it is fresh and brewing.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Louise,

      Thank you! And stay tuned, 'cause I just might have another surprise or two up my sleeve . . .

    • profile image

      Louise 5 years ago

      Hey, Never knew you such an interesting writer!!!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Thank you, CapricornRising!

      And thanks to all of you who voted for me!

      This has been not only great fun for me, but it has brought a bit of satisfaction deep into my core.

      Okay, gotta go now - the coffee is ready!

    • capricornrising profile image

      capricornrising 5 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      Congratulations on your well-deserved HubNuggets win!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Suzanne! Get ready - according to the poll, so far you have 22 new friends coming to YOUR house for coffee this Sunday!

    • irvinetraveller profile image

      irvinetraveller 5 years ago from California

      Trully enjoyed your Hub. I had often wondered how it was like to spend a tour of duty in our navy's ships. I probably would treasure that 4-8 shift too. Loved your second paragraph. Congratulations on your nomination!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I am not much of a coffee person but reading your hub made me wish you can pour me a cup of coffee today. :) Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. I like the energy you bring to this article and to your nomination as well. Best of luck to you. You can also read this hub to read and vote: http://pattyinglishms.hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/hub...

    • BeatsMe profile image

      BeatsMe 5 years ago

      Really nice hub. It feels as if I'm drinking coffee with you. Congrats for being nominated. Hope you win. :)

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      Thanks windclimber I appreciate the referral!

    • PhoenixV profile image

      PhoenixV 5 years ago from USA

      I linked to your Hub:)

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Capricornrising, thank you for your warm compliment!

    • capricornrising profile image

      capricornrising 5 years ago from Wilmington, NC

      I have a lot of thoughts. I'm a terrible coffee snob, and more than that, I believe that coffee is more than just a cup of wonderful liquid - as you've said, coffee envelops and enhances parts of our lives. It makes rituals out of moments. I was very moved by your wonderful words - not only because of the scenes you've shared, but also by the warmth, ease and facility with which you tell a story. Thanks for the perfect morning read.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Since this hub has been nominated for the HubNuggets contest, I just can’t stop myself from a little bragging and self-promotion! These are comments I received from friends via email:

      From Tania -

      Hello my friend, you are indeed a wonderful writer….I had absolutely no trouble voting for you and wish you best of luck through to the winning post. I can’t draw or paint but really value painting pictures with words, you nailed this Mik and gave me the ‘warm fuzzies’ reading your coffee recollections. Have a Merry Xmas good man. Tarn & The Blue Monkey Crew

      PS .I wanted to put these comments onto your Hub when I voted but think I hit the button too fast and have had to resort to emailing u instead. Please feel free to cut and paste the comment so rest of the Hubbets will see it too…..

      From Norm -

      Great story! Keep writing! After 21 years of writing sermons, I quit! I will forward this web address to my email buddies.

      From Mathew - "It made me want to start drinking coffee. Great read. "

      From Jennifer -

      That's really cool! I will post a link on Facebook and tell all my friends!

      Thanks, everybody! Whether or not I win the contest, this has been great fun for me!

    • profile image

      suzanne dupuis 5 years ago

      You have brought back to mind a very special time in our lives---thank you my friend!

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Cardelean, thank you! I looked at your hubs - you have a lot of good material, a good following, and a good rating: impressive! I'll send a link to your profile page to two young mothers I know.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      Infinitee, thank you! But what do you mean, "enormous" cup? 'Round here, the cup in the pic is what we call a demitasse.

    • infinitee profile image

      infinitee 5 years ago

      Love it, Love it, Love it...the story and the enormous coffee cup!

    • cardelean profile image

      cardelean 5 years ago from Michigan

      You are so right that it takes a couple of years to develop that taste for coffee. I love to explore different coffee flavors but my husband likes his one particular brand and flavor. I love that coffee can be both an individual and community activity. Wonderful account. Congrats on your nomination and welcome to Hubpages.

    • Windclimber profile image
      Author

      Windclimber 5 years ago from my boat somewhere on the Chesapeake Bay

      For coffee lovers, two tips:

      1 - Edy's makes good coffee-flavored ice cream. Besides their own flavors, they're the people that make ice cream for Starbucks.

      2 - espresso flavored vodka is really, really good! So far I've had only van Gogh brand, but I'm sure others are enjoyable. I currently have a bottle on my boat, and I like to take just a sip, just a taste whenever I pass by the bottle. The thing is, my boat is kind of small, so I can't turn around without "passing by" the bottle . . . ohhh, but it's soooo good . . .

    • sweethearts2 profile image

      sweethearts2 5 years ago from Northwest Indiana

      Loved remembering the coffee moments that I experienced as I read of your memorable coffee breaks. Made this mornings first cup very enjoyable.

    • profile image

      Bryan from Texas 5 years ago

      The author has a way of making you feel as if you were there with him, enjoying his friends and his coffee. I'll share my coffee with him in spirit tomorrow morning.