I was on my second cup of coffee at the Starbucks in downtown Corvallis Oregon when I noticed a cute woman walking a pair of dogs. It was Friday morning the day after Thanksgiving.
That year Thanksgiving was a lonely holiday. I’d spent the day in my cold punky little farmhouse with Honey and Smudge, my faithful feline friends. I was adrift at the time, hoping to find someone special but after more than two decades out of circulation, I was hopelessly uncomfortable about dating.
I recognized her, the cute woman with the dogs, from the time I’d worked on a contract at the Environmental Protection Agency’s research laboratory. But it had been years and years since we’d spoken. I didn’t remember her name.
Lonely and looking, I resolved to say something to her when I realized that she was about to come into the coffee shop after tethering her dogs. Out of the corner of my eye I watched for an opportunity, doing my best to avoid a creepy stare. And damned if she didn’t get her coffee to-go then scurry out the door to rejoin the dogs.
I almost let her get away that day twenty-two years ago. But I followed her out to say hello. She’s shared coffee with me nearly every morning since we married 11 months after that Friday morning.
I’m a morning person. Susan isn’t, which may be one reason our morning coffee ritual works.
I get to enjoy the quietness of morning. These days in the company of an old cat friend. In the past I shared the time with other special friends, cats and dogs who no longer grace this world but live on in my deepest memories.
Susan has the joy of uninterrupted slumber. If I were the sort, I’d envy her the peaceful repose, but I’m long resolved to be the light and fitful sleeper, an easy mark for the cats’ predilection for predawn kibble. Besides, I love to watch her sleeping, so relaxed. Makes my heart go all soft and lovey.
I can generally tell just about when Susan will begin to stir. I’m not sure what the cues are and often enough I miss early or late. But usually I know when it’s time to make the second pot. Another reason our morning ritual works, I get the first couple of mugs all to myself. Decadently selfish I know, but I’m the one down in the kitchen with cold feet, so what the hell.
It’s nice to heat the water, measure the coffee, arrange the mugs. Over the years the preparation ritual has changed, some years I perked the coffee, sometimes it was a press pot. Here in Spain I’m partial to the cafetera italiano, that iconic Italian stovetop espresso maker. But always, always it’s peaceful, the flow of actions, aromas and gentle sounds that go into producing the hot bitter brew that I’m about to share with the woman I love.
Then, coffee ready, pot in hand — or more recently a vacuum flask (Why did it take me two decades to come up with that idea?) — I climb the stairs, distribute the mugs and slip back under the covers to a drowsy, “Hi, honey.” My feet are just cold enough to relish the warmth of Susan’s body, but not so cold that I’m tempted to actually press the matter. “Good morning sweetheart', I reply, ‘how ‘bout a cuppa?” And the most important conversation of the day begins.
Our morning coffee ritual has tested and built the bonds of our respect for one another. It’s the time we talk about the most important issues. We’ve changed careers, struggled with the decision to abandon a failing business, explored our life values, mourned lost loved ones, dreamed about new and different futures. Sometimes we just watched the sunrise in shared silence.
Morning coffee is a constant. I believe we may only have missed a couple dozen or so days in the past 21 years — those days when we were in different places. Setting aside this special time has been one of the best accidental improvements of my life.
I’d like to write more, but I hear the church bell ringing and the sun will soon be up. It’s time to make the coffee.