Under the Maple Canopy

Singing Union Songs Since 2009

Books and Coffee


I’m a book person and by that I mean big books, little books, paperbacks, and hardcovers littered from one end of the house to another.  The book on the couch that I read while the kids played outside, yelling and screaming like most kids do – or at least like my kids do.  The books on the kitchen table that I think I’d like to read sometime soon.

Books on top of the lockers in the living room with their various states of being read.  The books in the bag at the foot of my night table that I haven’t thought about reading since we last went a trip and I carried them around for sport.  Books on the night table that I haven’t read in weeks, but which I promise I will read sometime soon because they’d be good for me.  How-to books on various subjects like quilting or writing.  Books that talk about the days of the year or the months of the seasons or how one person lives it all in mindful promise.

Books to keep and books to sell.  Books to read and books to dream or plan or become what you’re not, but would like to be.  Books on Celtic knots for that some day ring.  Books to learn from, teach from, read from, live in. You could follow me around the house and collect all those books in a bin and wonder where anyone would have the time.

This has nothing to do with coffee except that on my way upstairs from my basement hovel studio space to the bedroom I encountered several books I had put down at some point today and found my arms were full.  I was headed back to get the notebook I write all of my terrible ideas in.  The ideas don’t take my calling them terrible personally – or at least they wouldn’t if they were sentient and could talk.  I call them all my terrible ideas because that takes the pressure off.  I can explore the idea already believing they are terrible and then become pleasantly surprised when they’re not.

This is also how I ended up with coffee.  I read something and then that reminded me of a terrible idea that really wasn’t so bad.

I grew up around coffee.  My city was known for it, but not in the way that you might expect.  I didn’t grow up in Seattle and we didn’t roast our own.  In fact, when judged in the light of the art of coffee what we had was probably less than stellar.  No, we were known for our coffee break because we’re good Norwegian Americans and that’s what we do.

My parents made better coffee than most.  There were no red or blue cans on our pantry shelves.  You could not find the stuff they drank in the aisle of the grocery store.  We had bags of whole bean coffee in the freezer because that was the way to store it then.  Some of the coffee was already ground in a white-ish, somewhat transparent Tupperware container also sometimes used to store brandy slush in.

Our coffee maker was also above average with its conically shaped filters inside a white and black machine with clean modern lines.  Not square like Mr. Coffee or round, but oval.  I used to like to run my finger along the ribbed plastic sides as it sat on the kitchen counter and marvel over the texture and just how exactly one got plastic to bend that way.  Yes, my parents were coffee over-achievers.

My sisters and I had our own coffee break when my parents were out of the house.  We’d brew our own, being at that point considered too young to drink coffee as a matter of course.  It was like our little secret pleasure and probably pretty terrible given that it was brewed by kids.  When it came to our clandestine coffee adventures we’d scoop fragrant grounds from that Tupperware container in the freezer, carefully coaxing the frozen stiff lid back over the rim and never forgetting to burp before covering our tracks to avoid capture.

Black please, no sugar or cream or any of those newfangled ways one might gussy it up.  That sort of person needs a way to make coffee more palatable because they drink it on their way to a state of being instead of embracing the act of drinking coffee for the being it already is.  One part muscle memory as your mind switches off and your body takes over. Another part ritual as you sip carefully, mindful not to burn the roof of your mouth with the hot, amber liquid.  Slightly hazy with the steam rising from the cup and that slowly spreading sensation of warmth that radiates from the inside out.

From a young age we already appreciated what some folks never do, that a small dose of ritual does a body good and that a little bit of bitterness never hurt anyone.

I don’t remember exactly when our undercover coffee klatsch came to light, but I do know at some point the jig was up.  My parents were shocked, a bit surprised, and then shrugged and went on as if there was nothing out of the ordinary to be found in their kids drinking coffee.

Coffee, not tea, is our family beverage of choice on cold nights, warm nights, early mornings, late afternoons, and with dessert.  Holidays are steeped in coffee like the trendy fabric they used to dye at home for quilts and crafts.  There’s always a pot or two, although these days it’s an individual affair with the machine and the pods and a far more foolproof technique than we girls employed back in the day.

It wasn’t until I went off to college that I discovered Starbucks and Caramel Macchiatos.  Those familiar red paper cups around the holidays became the harbinger for the season and to this day it’s not quite Thanksgiving or Yule without them.  I even initiated my husband into the wonders of drinking coffee as first he turned up his nose and then he drank all of the sugary, milky goodness off the top of my cup leaving nothing but the espresso behind.

From there it was get your own coffee, my dear and a late bloomer found himself steeped in enough coffee to color our days and keep you going when you read because you had to – always from another’s choice like the doctoral dissertation that I maintain the professor assigned just so that it would stay in print.  We’d head bundled up out into the city streets and crunch from our dorms to Rush Street and back in the snow and ice just for a change of scenery to lighten the load.

And all that got me to thinking about how coffee becomes a bit like life.  Warm, with a pleasant aroma, and a side of bitterness to wash it all down.  Not in the negative sense as if the bitterness is a conscious choice, but rather the bit of bad that goes down with the good.  It’s all part and parcel to the experience.  The good.  The bad.  The might be.

The slight bitter taste to coffee does not make it bad anymore than any one bad day results in a bad life.  It does not sully the good because they exist in tandem.  It just is.  You can try to temper it, tame it, fade it, or radically remove it, but it’s as much a part of drinking coffee and living life as the color and the temperature and one has to wonder what happens if you were to remove it all.  Would it be the same?

7 thoughts on “Books and Coffee

  1. That was one beautiful essay. Actually got me a bit teary-eyed. Went to Room of One’s Own bookstore yesterday because they moved into the old Canterbury Books space. And bought three books because I want to support their efforts. We picked up ice cream on the drive home to have with our coffee and our new books. Actually started reading two of them when I got home. Too much good stuff to be able to make a choice. Perfect afternoon.

    • Awww…you are very kind! I’ve never been to Room of One’s Own, although I am familiar with the Canterbury space. The husband and I keep saying we’ll head up to that neck of the woods just to leisurely shop sans kids sometime, but alas it never happens. I remember what that’s like, though. It sounds like a very pleasant afternoon!

      Books and coffee really are pretty darn well suited for each other.

  2. We didn’t see any problem with you girls drinking coffee. We actually thought it was kind of cute!

  3. I love this. Beautifully written. Now feeling the need to brew some coffee, though the hour is late…

    • Thank you for your kind words. I don’t know that it’s ever too late for coffee – I think that’s what they made decaf and single cup brewers for. :0)