Thursday, November 21, 2013


Atlantic Center for the Arts. New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Rain poured in sheets. The Commons, the stove, my coffee seemed miles away. Outside, wearing a raincoat, flip flops, carrying a purse over my shoulder, holding tightly to the handle of my red umbrella, I sloshed through unavoidable puddles, then along wooden walkways, up a ramp. Inside the Commons, I boiled water, pressed espresso roast coffee through a filter, then walked back to my room, coat damp, hems of my capris soaked. Holding my coffee mug in my right hand, I figured I'd walk through a hurricane for a mug of strong black coffee. Time curved back, and she was, here, matching my stride, my mother dead these last eleven years, talking in that easy way we had with one another, “Do you remember when I did?”
            And I saw her short torso bent at the waist, shoulders thrusting forward, her salt and pepper hair, a wild halo around her head. She'd closed her fist around the black handle of a metal percolator. The pot had a glass ball at the top where coffee would bubble up, then drip through a metal filter. I used to love watching that glass ball, filling with coffee, the color turning from tan to nearly black. That’s when Mom would turn off the gas burner.
Gas burner, that was the problem the day Mom walked out into the eye of the storm. The year was 1947. I was eight. We’d gone to a friend’s house on higher ground for safety, a house with hurricane shutters. Dad had just bought the Lingerlong Hotel in Hollywood, Florida, a two story rectangular building with about thirty rooms. To buy the place, he’d taken out two mortgages. Little did he know that without hurricane insurance, the storm would ruin him. We three, Mom, Dad and I lived in an apartment in the back, two bedrooms, a kitchen and a gas stove. The storm had taken down utility poles and left wires snaking in streets and on lawns. No electricity. That stove was Mom’s ticket to a cup of coffee. She walked out into the eye of the storm, then, triumphantly, hurried back, fronds of palm trees already swaying, rain falling. Inside, she set the coffee pot down onto a hot pad, filling the kitchen with the aroma of fresh brewed coffee.

Take me to a Starbucks once, I’ll find the store for you again. I have a homing instinct for coffee, and Starbucks brews an espresso that meets my taste. You can go on about bitterness, about the way the company has pushed the small vendor aside, and I do have great sympathy for that. When I can, I frequent independent coffee shops and buy books at independent stores. But, let’s face it, I often succumb to convenience, ease and consistency. Consistency. I mulled the word and its synonyms, stability, equilibrium. That was Mom, comforting me after Dad raged and called me, stupid, said I was rotten and no good. Later, Mom would hold me close, tell me my father didn’t mean what he’d said. For years, I couldn’t see her complicity, the way her words, gave Dad permission to keep on raging, keep on yelling, keep on making me feel smaller and smaller. Still, I took comfort in her body, touch healing as my ghostly mother walked beside me in the rain, all these years later, Mom, holding the handle of a metal percolator, me clutching my travel mug.