Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Coffee Break

I wrote this in honor of my father's birthday, April 19, 1916.  I learned so much from him.

Nothing was going right.  I was making the simplest of projects and I couldn’t seem to even sew a straight seam.  I’d ripped out the zipper twice; I ran out of thread, I lost a pattern piece and the iron overheated.  To make matters worse, I’d checked earlier, and the stock market had tanked and my internet connection had slowed to a crawl.  My head hurt, my stomach ached and I had no idea what to fix for dinner.  Crap!
I sat there fuming at my sewing machine as if somehow it was at fault.  I was just about to try the zipper a third time when the voice in my head said, “Time for a coffee break, Shell Sue.”  That voice sounded remarkably like my father, because I think it probably was him.  I didn’t listen, but instead tried putting in the zipper again.  I bungled it one more time.  As I was shaking my head in disgust the voice returned, “What about that coffee break?”  I finally gave in. 
My dad was a master of the coffee break.  He worked hard as a diesel mechanic and was on the job at eight, coffee break at ten, lunch at noon on the dot, another break at three and headed home at five.  And every evening, waiting for him was a fresh pot of coffee.  I know, because I made it every day at 5:15. It was always the same.  He would come in the back door, put his black lunch box on the counter, sit down and take off his boots and then head for the coffee pot.  He took a bit of cream and one spoonful of sugar.  One time I came home from the corner store with half and half instead of whole cream because it was a tad cheaper.  I think it ruined his week.  He was a man of habit.  He was a man who knew what he liked.  And he liked his coffee. 
As I think back over my childhood it’s funny how many times I remember the coffee.  Guests were always offered a cup as soon as they came through the door.  It was a part of every meal, we drank it while playing Dominoes and it helped us start every day.  It was carried in a silver Stanley thermos for going out and kept hot in the old Corning Ware coffee pot when staying in.  We drank it in the summer to cool down and in the winter to warm up.  Three scoops of MJB in the basket of the old percolator,  fill it up with cold tap water, plug it in; listen for it to perk.  I miss that sound…somewhere between a bubble and a hiccup. 
But, the times I remember coffee the most were on work days around the ranch.  We’d be out raking grass, digging in the garden or stacking wood.  We’d have worked for a couple of hours until we were sweaty and dirty and then Mom would call from the kitchen, “Coffee’s on!”  We’d make a beeline for the door.
I recall the time I tried to start the old lawn mower.  I pulled and pulled but it would not start.  Oh, the engine would turn over every eight or ten tries just to make me think it was going to start.  I got more disgusted and jerked harder.  Dad came over and laid his hand on my shoulder, “Time for a coffee break.”  I resisted at first.  “It’s just about to start Dad.  Let me try a bit longer.”  He didn’t answer, but just headed for the house.  And when I followed I came into the kitchen to see him pouring coffee into the Corelle tea cup he always used. 
He liked it for its size and its handle…just the right amount and the handle design worked with his stiff, arthritic fingers.  He took it around to the table, sat down and stirred for a long time, the spoon ringing softly against the side of the cup.  Just hearing that sound always relaxed me, as it probably did for Dad.  He gazed off vacantly as he stirred, quiet as usual.  Then I saw a flash cross his face.  “You know,” he said, “I don’t think the spark plug has been changed in that mower in a while.  Let’s try that when we go back out.”  And of course, that was the right fix.
We often sat and talked over coffee in the old dining room at the ranch.  Well, mostly Dad would listen while others talked.  He listened with his whole being and he looked you in the eye, cocking his head to the side so that he caught every word.  He honored others with his undivided attention.  And when he did offer an opinion it was after he’d thought about it, sipping his coffee and thoroughly considering his advice, choosing his words with care. 
I think about the wisdom of my father and his coffee breaks.  I sometimes get so wrapped up in a project that I try to push through even when it isn’t going well.  I usually end up taking longer, ruining pieces, getting upset or just plain giving up.  But, if I'd sit back or slow down every once in a while I might recognize when it’s time for a break.  Instead of pushing through I should push back from whatever I’m doing.  And I might gain a bit of clarity on the task or at least renew my energy.   If the break involves coffee in my favorite mug, then so much the better. 
And I think about how I like my routine, just like Dad.  But, sometimes I get lost in it and I forget what I’m doing or really why I’m doing it.  And the doing somehow takes over my life.  I think about how sometimes I need to take much longer breaks from the scurrying around and the routine of my life so I can see new sights, visit old friends or just change it all up a bit.  Instead of pushing through life with my head down I can give myself the permission to take a break and listen with my whole being, honoring myself with my undivided attention.  If I can be still for once and cock my head just right I might be able to listen to my soul speak.  Who knows what I will hear?


  1. Ahhh... you write this blog like it is a wrapped box with a big ribbon. You are your father. That is beautiful. :) Kelly

  2. What a lovely comment, Kelly! I'm sure that made my mother's day!
    Mom, I can see Papa in all of this. I can still hear the sound of him clinking his spoon on his cup. I can also remember looking up at the table only to catch him looking at me. He'd grin at me and wiggle his ears just to make me giggle. Ah... the memories!

  3. That was beautiful, and a good reminder that we all need to take a break. I love the cup...just like what you showed us in the antique store.

  4. Thank you all for your thoughts. He was a great man and a wonderful teacher.

  5. I loved this, Shelley! A reminder to go with the flow of life and enjoy the experience in the moment. Savor the serenity of our own company and the opportunity in "being" with people rather than focusing on completing tasks (doing stuff) to making everything on the outside look good. I sometimes am so concerned about everything looking good and appearing perfect that I am too uptight and exhausted to enjoy the event or the people I'm doing it all for! I do know that when I take a deep breath and set aside my perfection obsession to relax and allow things to naturally unfold that the real experience of connection,
    love, relatedness and fun become present. It is the kind words spoken, familiar teasing loved ones in jest and sweetness of conversation that is remembered. The feelings generated from being present in the moment with people we love are lasting and can be accessed over and over again as pleasant memories of days gone by. I never like to ponder and dwell on how hard I worked to make sure the water glasses were spotless and towels were precisely placed in the bathroom! Anyway, this is what your wonderful tribute to your dad made me think about. Thanks, my beautiful friend.