My Grandfather’s Coffee

This is what comes of me reading John Gould books:  I get the urge to tell stories, and since everyone in breathing distance knows the warning signs by now, there’s nobody left near enough to tell them to without hollering, and my mother brought me up not to raise my voice.

But telling a story, as Steve King once observed, is like certain other bodily functions — it’s inside you, and it’s gonna come out no matter what you do.  If you’re lucky, it won’t stink too bad when you’re done.  Besides, I know from experience that I’ll be worthless until this is finished, so I’d best keep on; worst case, I’ll have some waste paper to help with cleanup.

Not that I’m worth much at the best of times, as my mother-out-law can attest.  It’s not that I’m afraid of hard work or anything.  Quite the contrary, in fact; I can do my bit with a smile and a laugh if I’m well motivated, and a man with a shotgun or an elderly woman armed with a limber switch is motivation enough for anyone.  My trouble is, that fellow with the rent-book may still evict me, but until he’s in view it’s tough to stay interested.  Work is boring by definition; if it were fun and exciting, they wouldn’t need to pay you.

It would be easier for me if things were like they were in the old days, when at the end of the day the foreman would hand you a packet with your pay, complete with pocket change and a slip to remind you of taxes paid.  These days, it’s two weeks or more till payday, and then what you get is a single sheet of paper telling how much is going to your bank account after the weekend, less deductions for the state, the Feds, and two or three other things, and the more you earn, the more they take away.  The numbers are all bigger but the joy is somehow a bit less.  Automatically deducted, I think.

This is especially true considering what they’ve done to the banks since I was young.  Back then, my savings account made five or six percent, and it just made sense to deposit, aiming for that long distant day when I could get the balance high enough so that six percent could keep me in bacon and beans.  Now, they tell me the quarter percent the bank gives me won’t quite cover the check cashing fee, and what with inflation and all it actually costs to save money.  I don’t know how that works but smart people explained it to me so I know it must be true.  Besides, I never seem to have any money, so experience bears out the theory.

People say times are hard, but times are always hard, I guess.  We have to remember to be grateful for the important advancements, and I’m not talking about the touchscreen smart phone here.  Remember:  Toilet paper and running water.

I recall visiting my grandparents when I was a kid; they kept a hand pump out in the yard just in case, and it brought up sweet water for a lot of years.  My grandfather had been a machinist, but when he retired I guess he’d had enough of modern convenience, and when visitors would come he’d often go out back of the barn to use what he thought of as the more natural plumbing.  For me the Sears Catalog was full of wonderful pictures and Christmas dreams; for him, it was a matter of absorbent pages.

Then again, it may just be that he preferred the quiet of the outdoors to the constant talk in the kitchen.  Grampie never did say much unless he had a story to tell, and he did love the outdoors.  Going for a walk in the woods with him was glorious, at least when I was clever enough to keep my mouth shut.  The rest of the time, I spouted so much nonsense that, given the perspective of years, it’s clear he must have loved me very much.

He always made the best coffee, too, and I remember his recipe.  He had an empty can that had once held a pound of “Chock Full O’ Nuts”, and he had punched holes in it and made a bail from an old coathanger.  Moving water from a little stream, some grounds in a twist of paper from his pocket, and he’d start a fire with some deadfall wood.  He’d put in some dried eggshell to keep the grounds down, and then he might tip in a few grains of salt from a paper restaurant packet — carefully re-folding it so the rest would be good for next time.  Heat, steep, and serve in a styrofoam cup from one of his many pockets.  To this day I have no idea how he managed to store everything in those pockets, and especially to keep the cups unbroken.

A true gourmand would object to this manner of heating coffee beans, perhaps, and anyone with a microscope would be terrified at what could have been living in that water before he came along.  Even his most ardent supporters would be forced to admit that fishing bits of bark and fly ash from their coffee cups rather detracted from the experience.  But I knew better.  That was the only coffee in the world worth having.  I remember being very proud of something I said to a cousin:  “Of course it taste like dirt.  It’s made from grounds, after all.”

Sometimes I’m amazed nobody drowned me before I got big enough to put up a fight.

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