Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Coffee: Hot, Black, & Strong (Unless You're a Little Bit Crazy...)

It's writing challenge time, brought to you by Indie Ink. New contestants: Virgins; New feedback and comments: Vivacious; Not meeting deadlines: Vile. For everything else, there's me.

Welcome to Week 17.

Week 17.
My Challenger: Kelly Garriott Waite
My Challenge: The bitterness of black coffee and the subtlety of...
Who I am Challenging: Katri
What I Challenged Them With: Write a story--I don't care what it's actually about, but every sentence--EVERY SENTENCE--must begin with a vowel: A, E, I, O, or U. It cannot be poetry, and it must be at least 500 words long. (I hope she doesn't hate me too much for that... I guess we'll see!)


Some things to note about coffee in our family.
  • It must be black
  • It must be strong
  • It must be hot
Sometimes we get a little wild and crazy, mind you: a little Irish creamer here, a cube of brown sugar there, and on the really crazy days, a shot of Hazelnut rum, just to make sure the heat reaches your bones.

It started with this woman here--at least, as far as I know. My great-grandmother, Ella Mae (Dawson) Zartman. She was never without a cup of coffee in her hand. You could say it was her only vice, but had I known her better, I probably could list more. She, her one brother, and her three younger sisters came over from Ireland only to end up in an orphanage when their parents died. Nanny told stories of sneaking into the kitchen at night to steal bread with ketchup spread over it, and, when caught, of the severe punishments. The bread was always for her younger siblings; she wouldn't dare let them get into trouble getting caught doing it themselves. As soon as she turned eighteen, she legally adopted all of her siblings and moved them out of the orphanage.

One story I fondly remember is when my mother's two brothers were young, they wanted to play fire fighter. My great-grandmother said, "Okay," and presently started a fire in her kitchen sink so they would have a fire to put out. That's just how my great-grandmother rolled. I never remember her kitchen wanting for company, and, on those long, hot summer days when we great-grandkids tired of running though the woods or splashing in the creek, there were only two places to go: Grandmom's house, and Nanny's house. Grandmom's house had cable, but a lot--a lot--of rules. Nanny's house, on the other hand? Had coffee.

She had started her three children out young--they had a farm to run, after all, and breakfast wasn't breakfast unless there was a hot pot of coffee. She continued with my mother and uncles, as they lived just a stone's throw away--up the driveway in the renovated barn--and as they came to and from the bus, there Nanny was, hand around a hot mug of coffee and a big smile (noted, ironically, that in this picture she is definitely not smiling, but then again, I can only imagine there wasn't anything particularly happy about that particular day with her hubby and three kids all posing for this picture... Perhaps they had run out of coffee?)

Then when her five great grandkids came along? Well, that deserved some coffee, too. And being as how we were also only a stone's throw away--just across the creek from the renovated barn my mother had grown up in--it just seemed the natural progression of things. I can't exactly remember when it started--I do remember my younger brother was the first one to take her up on the offer of a cup of coffee. (It should be noted here that Michael was also fond of kissing worms on a dare--but hey, that's what younger brother's are for, right? Right?) And from there, the coffee just flowed.

Granted, of the five of us, there are only three of us--the three that, perhaps somewhat ironically, take the most after our mother and happen to be the three middle children--that drink coffee regularly. The oldest, never, and the youngest, as her whimsy carries her. And though others may have frowned upon children drinking coffee at such a young age, I know the one thing that the bitter taste of that coffee conveyed every time it was poured into a mug and handed to someone: love.

You see, even now, when I get together with my mother, the first thing we do is order a cup of coffee. Caffeinated. Black. (Unless we're feeling a little crazy...) When I visit either one of my sisters' houses, I know I can count on that coffee. When I see my younger brother? Coffee. (Sans worms, thank you...)

And then, once our mugs are full with the strong, bitter flavor wafting up to our nostrils, then we can talk. Laugh. Chit-chat. Whatever.

By 1986, at my Nanny and Pop-pops 50th wedding anniversary, the love and coffee of two people had exploded into their three children (and their spouses), seven grandchildren (and their spouses), and (at the time) ten great-grandchildren. Before they both passed away, that total of great-grandchildren had surpassed fifteen, with one great-great-grandchild. (Yours truly can be seen, third from the right, bottom row...)

Perhaps it's not as subtle as my challenger intended (though I honestly wasn't sure what my challenger intended--all I could think of for days was an angry little Sicilian wagering the life of a princess--don't ask why... It's inconceivable...), but the more I thought about my coffee, more and more my thoughts turned to that of my Nanny, and the subtle ways she showed us her love through the one thing in life she knew she could always count on, through the good times and the bad, through the lean years and the fat years, and always in her kitchen crowded with family and friends: coffee.



And strong.

(Unless she was feeling a little crazy...)

Previous Challenges I have answered:


Tara R. said...

Aww... this reminded me of my own grandmother, who also always had a cup of coffee in her hand. While I'm not a consistent coffee drinker, it does hold wonderful memories for me of some very special people.

Marian said...

first, brown sugar in coffee?!?! that is radical, man. i am trying that tomorrow. also? i identified you in that fantastic group photo before you identified yourself :)

Sunshine said...

Jason, you tell such a great story <3 I feel like I'm part of your little circle, and I catch myself saying "I really want to be friends with him in real life" Well done, as always. Rub some of your story-telling-fantasticism on my blog, will ya?

Jo Bryant said...

This is great - such a slice of life you let us into.

Head Ant said...

Your Nanny sounds like an awesome lady to know.

I've started drinking black coffee and I don't know why.

Cedar said...

I lost my great-grandma this spring, Jason, she was 97. I don't have any coffeee related memories of her, but your stories about your great grandma reminded me of my Gradma Ella. Thank you

The Drama Mama said...

What a great way to use a challenge to pay tribute to your Nanny.

Kelly Garriott Waite said...

Nicely done! And I intended nothing when I offered up that prompt. I hate to have leading prompts. I loved reading this fantastic memory.

Kat said...

Loved this. Made me think of my Grammy and her vices; peanut butter and banana sandwiches and VO on the rocks. Nothing beats an Irish grandma!

Steff said...

Aww I loved this. You painted such a clear picture of your family! I do love how angry she looks in that picture when everyone else is smiling. Hehe.

Stefan said...

True stories are usually the best ones. Love and life is saturating this post - AWESOME!

You can call me, 'Sir' said...

My love of coffee started with an urge to mimic my grandparents, who loved the stuff. That love, of both them and coffee, remains as strong today as it's ever been. Great job with this.