Coffee, Sugar, Thread

Little things you do every day can be like threads, tugging backward on old textiles that unravel before us. It’s odd to see their structures, these old pieces of cloth. They used to make up the fabric of our universes, and they fall apart under scrutiny when we’re grown.

I used to hate coffee. A New England child, this was simply not allowed. Milk came in three varieties in our elementary school cafeteria: whole, chocolate, and coffee. Grandma used to make baby coffee for us, which was mostly milk and sugar. Grandpa once ate all the ice cream, leaving only the coffee flavor for the rug rats. Perhaps it was moving away from this that made me start to like the stuff, perhaps trying to gain favor with a group of coffee-swilling friends in high school. I grew fond of baby coffee, and lattes were soon to follow. I drink great coffee black, but the rest needs milk and sugar.

Now, in New England, the next thing a child learns aside from the love of coffee is thrift. Combining the two isn’t always good, but it can lead to some spectacular developments… like my seven dollar Goodwill Senseo. Love my French press, the Senseo is damned convenient. Okay quality coffee, at the push of a button, in mere moments on my way out the door. For seven dollars plus the cost of coffee pods. Grandma would be proud.

As handy as that coffee machine is, old coffee in pods is something I will never drink black. Milk already on hand one morning, the sugar I reached for was brown. It tastes good brown and raw, better than that processed cocaine-like powder stuff. Unbidden and out of context, the Rolling Stones burst into my head, because, hey, “brown sugar, how come you taste so good?”

My mother used to be a lot of fun sometimes. She would sing old songs and not so old songs to us, and we’d sing with her on good days– things that had been popular when she was a kid, things she had picked up along the way. One day, I must have been all of thirteen, she burst out with “Brown Sugar” while we were cleaning up the kitchen. And we sang together, because I was going through my classic rock phase. We sang without thinking, as privilege allows. When we got to the chorus, she belted it out: “Brown Sugar! How come you dance so good?”

“Mom, it’s ‘taste’ so good…”

She stopped. She looked at me hard, with that knowing adult smile. “Oh?”

“Yeah. I know what it means there. ‘Dance’ doesn’t make the same sense. And the whole song is… well…” I wanted to say “racist,” I wanted to say I got that context, I wanted to say that I knew about sex and coercion and… then the sentence just stuck. I couldn’t finish it.

And her smile faded. Melted right off her face. We never finished the song. And we never sang together again. And in understanding that song, or layers of it, I haven’t been able to sing it since. What did I expect? Perhaps in her world, two grown adults don’t play and sing together. And knowing even the surface of something so harsh, the privilege of ignorance is lost.

So I sat down, grown and scrutinizing, took the pile of unraveled thread, and sipped my thrifty coffee.

2 thoughts on “Coffee, Sugar, Thread”

  1. Innocence is an illusion maintained by the optimistic thought of the observer. If the observer truly knew the primal and sometimes violent thoughts of the child, they would hardly think it innocent. Your mother obviously didn’t know that you were aware of such things as sex and racism, though if she had been a realist at the time she would have known that those things are pretty easily figured out by the time you’re twelve or so. It’s not like you were sealed in a bubble, after all. Public school does wonders for world understanding. 🙂That your mother put up a wall like that..I don’t know if she reclassified you as a threat or what…speaks a lot more to her character than yours. One of those bittersweet moments that you never lose.


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