Monday, June 21, 2010

What Comforts Us

Recently I’ve been thinking about comfort and what that means to me. Amy mentioned in her last blog post that Steph has moved to Portland; to say she will be missed in our writing community and in our lives is the very definition of understatement. Steph had a difficult decision to make and leaving Bloomington was hard for her so I wanted to do something to help her transition. I sent her this quote in an email to be opened when she arrived: “Whenever I go on a trip, I think about all the homes I’ve had and I remember how little has changed about what comforts me." Brian Andreas Mostly True Collected Stories & Drawings.

After sending the quote to Steph, I began thinking about what brought me comfort. This led me to question the definition of comfort, so I looked it up. Thank you Merriam-Webster Online!

Main Entry: 1 com·fort
Pronunciation: \ˈkəm(p)-fərt\
Function: transitive verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French cunforter, comforter, from Late Latin confortare to strengthen greatly, from Latin com- + fortis strong
Date: 13th century

1 : to give strength and hope to : CHEER 2 : to ease the grief or trouble of : CONSOLE

I realized that the thing that has brought me comfort consistently throughout my life fits both definitions. That thing for me is coffee.

I grew up in a chaotic, shifting environment. The only constant in my life was my maternal grandfather an inveterate coffee drinker. One of my first solid memories is of sitting on his lap at Grandma & Grandpa’s kitchen table. He’s drinking coffee and has made me a cup of my own, mostly milk with a little coffee and a lot of sugar. I remember feeling very grown up having my own cup of coffee. Their kitchen table was small and covered in a red checkered oil cloth. Grandpa used an ivory colored mug, its surface paint crackled like the lines on the back of his neck. I used one of Grandma’s tea cups because it wasn’t too heavy for my tiny hands. Coffee is forever bound to the feelings of safety, hope, strength and ease that I associated with Grandpa. He was a man who always had time for each of his ten grandchildren; a man who somehow knew what each of us needed and made us each secretly feel that we were his favorite. For me, he had patience. He knew that I needed downtime from my household of drama. He would take me to Miller’s Dairy for ice cream and never once tell me to hurry up no matter how long it took me to choose chocolate every time.

When I was twelve, Mother taught me how to make a great pot of coffee in our Pyrex glass stove top percolator. It felt like a rite of passage. I know I was twelve because that was the year Grandpa died. I can close my eyes and still smell the difference between that brewed coffee and Grandpa’s instant Sanka.

I always feel immediately at home when I walk into someone’s house and they offer me a cup of coffee. It feels very congenial. My surrogate mother, Dorothy Young, always had her stainless steel Hamilton Beach percolator going, the coffee inside the glass knob on the lid bubbling away happily. That coffee pot produced its own unique aroma that I remember well also. Her home and her coffee always brought me comfort.
There is a coffee concoction that Grandpa taught me how to make: Coffee Bread. In a shallow bowl you place two slices of buttered bread (in those days it was Wonder Bread and what Grandma called oleo), sprinkle a little sugar on them, then pour about a half mug of milky coffee over it, and eat with a big
spoon. That recipe probably sounds weird to most people, but about twice a year I make Coffee Bread for myself. I sit with it and savor it and am comforted by it. Some times when I make it I wonder what inspired this concoction and I think it was probably a poor man’s dessert for someone who raised four children during the Great Depression.

Rituals are very important in my life and I love the ritual of making the coffee, preparing my own cup with just the right balance of milk and sweetener, and sitting with the cup in both hands, savoring the aroma. It feels very luxurious just to take the time to sit with my coffee. It takes me back to the days when Grandpa had all the time in the world to sit on his front porch swing with a little girl, watching the lightening bugs in the garden and listening to the katydids.

Rebekah for the Poplar Grove Muse


  1. Rebekah - this is so beautiful! I have a vivid sense of your Grandfather's love for you. And thank you for making me feel very connected to Btown. I miss is tremendously!

  2. Beck,

    That was very comforting!:D

    It comes to me that although you my not have had great female role models in your life you hit the jack-pot when it came to fabulous men. I wish I could have had a cup of coffee with you and your Grandpa. He sounds like a lovely man much like your Dad.

    I think I will go have a cup of coffee now......

  3. Beck
    yummy coffee right up my alley. You know I am a coffee nut. I agree I always feel at home with a cup of coffee, oh I sound like a 40's commercial but it is true. My big espresso machine has been on the blink for some time and I have not sent it to the hospital for surgery. But I did purchase a handheld espresso machine using whippit cartridges as pressure to extract the coffee. I wanted to hate it because it seems so simple and the big machine takes a certain amount of art, but I do love it and the shots are the best. Looking forward to making you some the next time we get together.

  4. This is beautiful rebekah. Quite a tribute to coffee and your grandfather. I consider myself from humble roots as well and I have never heard of coffee bread. I must try it sometime.


  5. Victoria (Tori) RogersJune 29, 2010 at 12:54 PM

    What lovely memories of your grandfather. I discovered the taste of creamy coffee late in life, but the smell takes me back home. I had forgotten about the glass knob on the percolator adding visual interest to the sound and aromal. Do they still make percolators?