The Ceremony Of Coffee

Pierre Fontenot Friday, October 7, 2016 Comments Off on The Ceremony Of Coffee
The Ceremony Of Coffee

Her husband brought her coffee every morning.  Not just when they were newlyweds, not just when things were hunky-dory, every morning, mornings after spats, mornings after she wished she could take back things she’d said.  He was that kind of guy.

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Maw Maw’s Kitchen

We were Louisiana people, country folks.  We didn’t do tea.

My grandmother’s house was the center of the family orbit.  One of my fondest memories is of her almost-five-foot-self standing at her sink, tiptoeing to see through that window into the backyard, on the lookout for my grandfather and her two sons.  She had a knack for starting a fresh pot at the right time.

My Uncle Daniel would pop in there, afternoonish.  He’d come in through the back door and head straight to the coffee pot.  He rarely sat down.  He’d pour a cup, lean up against the sink counter and converse with his mother in French.  For all I know they were talking about nothing, but she loved her boy, and his little visits mattered, even though there was a visit yesterday and would be one tomorrow.

My grandmother was a wash-it-as-you-use-it woman.  One cup of coffee, one spoon, she’d hand wash it right then.  That was her way.

One of my grandmother’s coffee cups. Old people talking French, men to men, women to women, me off to the side, not knowing a word being said, nor old enough to know that this too shall pass...

One of my grandmother’s coffee cups.
Old people talking French, men to men, women to women, me off to the side, not knowing a word being said, nor old enough to know that this too shall pass…

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Dropping A Spoon Meant Company Was Coming

When the dogs barked a certain way she’d get up and get a fresh brew going, even before the visiting car started crunching on the shell and gravel driveway.

I don’t know how pinky-finger-stick-outers entertain guests, but I can tell you about Allen Parish, 1960’s.

It starts with a big fuss.  Shame I never learned French, ‘cause that was the language of choice.  Nobody knocked on the front door…because they were greeted before they ever got to the front porch.  Arms wide, big denture smiles, a lot of hugging…(and here I insert the word Sincere, for my grandparents (and all the adults in my country orbit) really liked people, and were sincerely grateful that someone had come to visit.)

I need to also point out that people of my grandparents generation (and even my parents, early on) did not call first to see if you were home, or if it was convenient…they just showed up.  It was the way humans have visited for thousands of years, and I caught the last of it, before my generation grew up with telephones.

The guests were ushered into the living room.  Before Joe DiMaggio and Mr. Coffee it was either a drip pot or a percolator, doing their little coffee doings over there by the kitchen sink.

There was a big round of urgent small talk before the coffee was served, everybody getting settled into the occasion.

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Community Coffee

My grandmother had a big serving tray.  For every guest there was a cup of black coffee, already poured, half full.  In the center of the tray was a bowl of sugar and a creamer, and one stirring spoon, sitting in a cup of water.

There was a social weight upon my grandmother, not just to not-drop the awkward tray, but to pick the order served.  Each guest picked among the mismatched coffee cups, then added sugar and cream, and stirred, the first sip, the uuummm, all while my grandmother held the tray before them.

When all guests were served my grandmother served herself.  Once she was seated the visit shifted into a more comfortable pace. The coffee gave everyone an excuse, a thing to do, if the conversation hit slow going.  Weather was always a starting point in conversation, and when that was covered guests could always fill the air with talk about how delicious the coffee was, until some new topic presented itself.

Children were not offered coffee.  To us, coffee might as well have been whiskey.  It was a big occasion when in my nearly-teens my grandmother gave me some coffee-milk (more milk than coffee) out of a grownup coffee cup.  It made me want to cross my legs and talk weather and politics.

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The Dance Of Departure

During the visit guests would be asked if they wanted a “little more”, which they almost always refused.  (Did I mention that my grandmother’s coffee was strong?)

There was always a first leaving.  The husband, “Well, old woman, you ready?”  This would be met by vigorous protests from my grandparents.  More coffee was offered.  The conversation would continue for another 15 minutes and then often the guest wife’s turn, “Well, old man, we got a big day tomorrow.”  More protests.

This could go on for an hour.

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Not In The Bible, But Should Be

Any given day of my life there has been a news story about drugs and the damage thereof.  Let me make my stand here; I am all for caffeine.

Caffeine is a fine drug.  If they ever get the Dead Sea Scrolls fully translated I expect they’ll find some missing scripture, that on the 6th day, God realized that Adam wouldn’t get much done, so He created coffee.

I went through my fancy coffee stage in the 80’s, long before Starbucks.  Poor Dad, I thought, and I brought him some fresh ground gourmet stuff on a trip home.  I even tapped a little bump of cinnamon over the grounds.  “Wait till you taste this,” I said, like I was gonna save him from coffee ignorance.

He won. I’m not a five dollar coffee guy anymore, and frankly, I’m embarrassed that I ever was.  Now…I just want coffee, sweet and blonde, two cups in the morning and another at another at three in the afternoon.

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Circling Back Around To The Beginning

I think about what she said, about her husband fixing her coffee, every morning, until he got sick.  It’s a new day, he’s thinking, and next to sunrise, nothing symbolizes Have A Nice Day like the first cup of coffee.  There is love in the offering of coffee.  It’s a pat on the back and a go-gettum.  It says you ‘n me, and you first.

We do church once a week; we do coffee every day.  It’s just a bean isn’t it?  Or is it?

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This edition of Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories is brought to you by Eighty-one, where we hope you say You Matter when you have a chance to be of coffee-service to someone.  

Uncle P’s Bedtime Stories can be found on Eighty-one’s Facebook page.  He can be reached at

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