I learned to like coffee cold and black when I was about three years old, or maybe two. That’s when I was old enough to reach up and take hold of my mother’s coffee mug– the mug she had left on the windowsill or the counter or the piano, preoccupied with Other Things while her coffee went cold and her toddler came along to taste it.
My mother did not intentionally teach me this. I think she wouldn’t care one whit if I never learned to like coffee (and I do like coffee, but won’t bother with it now unless it has cream, because what is coffee if not a vehicle for caffeine and fatty dairy products?), but she taught me nonetheless, and now I laugh when I find her abandoned mug– here or at her house– half-full of coffee, black and cold.
She might not know it, but she has this habit with coffee mugs and coffee for an excellent reason: she has things to do, and so cannot often be bothered to finish her coffee, much less remember where she put it. Take the last ten days, for instance, over which time my family and I have So Enjoyed her company. She came to be with us for Christmas but, unlike other very welcome company who might require all manner of attention, help, and occupation, she Found Things To Do.
While she was here, I did exactly One load of laundry. The rest of it (and, make no mistake, there is always Plenty at our house) kept moving nicely through the washing and drying machines, magically appearing neatly folded on our beds, blanket chests, or In Our Dresser Drawers without comment or complaint. Once over her stay I began doing the dishes, only to be shooed away from the kitchen sink and sent to rest or read or write in the living room. She also handled most meals: yesterday afternoon I sat at this computer writing and was summoned to a beautiful dinner, Fifteen Minutes Earlier than “we” had originally planned.
That didn’t surprise me. My mother is remarkably efficient. As much as I might feel guilty for all she does while here (and I don’t, because she would hate that), she is Much Better At It All than I am: she does things quickly and well in No Time, and makes it look So Easy.
Yes, she is easy to have around, but not only because of the help she provides. For in addition to her joyful service, she seems to truly Like us, unequivocally, honestly, simply. Conversation with her is affirming but also challenging. She gave us a calendar for Christmas: “Plan carefully, you two,” she admonitioned us. “At the beginning of every month, set apart days for the two of you as a couple, and for the five of you as a family. You need to take care of yourselves. You can’t love others well until you are truly loving yourselves.”
We planned to do a lot while she was here. We did make it to S&T’s Soda Shoppe, to Duke Gardens and Chapel, to the mall for a quick shopping spree at Coldwater Creek, and to A Southern Season. We also celebrated Everett’s birthday, and our Lord’s, and we watched All of The Lord of the Rings. Because we ran out of time, we could only watch the highlights of A&E’s delightful version of Pride and Prejudice. We didn’t get to pick out frames for the children’s artwork as originally planned, and I had hoped she’d help me with some sorting here and there. But she did reorganize my pantry and helped me with some Difficult Mending, and we had some Really Wonderful Conversations in which she reminded me, yet again, of Whose I am and therefore Who I am. I marvel to realize how rested I am compared with how I was when she arrived– so much more rested than I might have been, despite having days and days off teaching, had she not been here.
I realize this might be an uncommon gift: a mother whose time and conversation feed and fill the soul, who reminds you in words and silence of where you came from and, in so doing, of who you are. She was ready for church (of course) before us this morning and so did what she often
did when I was growing up: she sat at the piano and played hymns and sang while she waited. When I came downstairs, Will stood at her side, listening.
After church we had time to visit a coffee shop for a scone or two before taking my mother to the airport. We are a family of five again, and that is good, I suppose, though we miss her already. She left few signs of having been here: she already washed the sheets from her bed, and her bath towel is in the laundry. But there in the drainer are the dishes she washed for me yesterday afternoon. And on the piano I found half a cup of coffee, cold and black.