“Coffee is restful,” a farm wife once told me as she served a boiling mug of java that was strong enough to lift the back end of a bus. “You have a cup of coffee and you get some rest. Have another cup of coffee and you get more rest!”
I found her observation intriguing even though my experience was that coffee seldom induces a soothing period of repose. The opposite generally happens when the caffeine supercharges my synapses and careens through my kidneys.
Coffee and I have a blissful relationship that dates back to some of my earliest memories. I recall, as a little kid, begging my parents for a sample of the exotic ebony elixir they were sipping. They obligingly complied, even going so far as to add some milk to the brew. I think they came to regret this when I began to bounce off the walls like a red-faced, boy-shaped pinball.
But it was already too late. My love affair with coffee had taken root.
Back then coffee was largely regarded as being bad for kids. The theory was that it would stunt your growth, although almost everything was suspected of stunting growth in those days, including wearing plaid pajamas.
Craving another “hit” of caffeine, I decided to obtain my drug of choice by any means possible — even if it meant sneaking behind my parents’ backs. Which I did.
One of my sisters had been given a toy serving set that included a miniature coffee pot. We filled the toy pot with water and added a generous portion of ground coffee “borrowed” from our parents’ stash. We then set the pot to steep overnight atop our oil burning parlor stove.
In the morning we had honest-to-goodness coffee, albeit a brew that had been made from pilfered materials. But wow, was that coffee good! It could also drop a charging Holstein bull at 50 paces. The free-floating grounds were a bit of a problem, but we quickly learned to strain them out with our tonsils. This is a necessary skill if you’re going to pursue the life of a hard-boiled caffeine head.
I grew up in an era when farmers commonly participated in “neighboring,” a practice that involved sharing labor and machinery with one another. This meant that a small army of men and machines would descend upon our farm several times per year. The atmosphere surrounding these events was similar to that of a carnival coming to our place.
At least that’s how I felt. But then again, I didn’t have to feed all those hungry men. It fell to my Mom and my sisters to whip up quantities of food normally associated with a the word “battalion.”
And of course all those victuals were washed down by gallons of steaming joe, brewed to be as strong as cast iron. I could never understand why, in the high heat of summer, scalding hot coffee remained the beverage of choice. But that was also a time when many deemed it healthful to wear your “long handles” the year round.
We had a colossal coffee pot that was pressed into service whenever the neighborhood crew came to work at our place. I would estimate that it held five gallons, but I was a little kid so everything seemed big to me.
The huge coffee pot was filled with water and set to boil. A mixture of egg and about half a pound of ground coffee was dumped into the pot. A good bit of the grounds would find their way into the cup, but everyone was adept at the art of tonsillar coffee filtering.
In addition to a huge noon meal, the crew of men were served both forenoon and afternoon lunches. These were relatively minor snacks, only slightly smaller than an average Thanksgiving dinner. But whatever the menu, coffee was the main beverage.
The lunches had to be hauled out to the field to minimize the amount of downtime for the crew. The backseat of our 1953 Chevy was loaded with food — baloney sandwiches, homemade donuts, cinnamon rolls — and driven out to the headland of the field. The open trunk of the car became a makeshift picnic table.
The men gathered around and wolfed down the goodies, their greasy fingers leaving dark smudges on the white bread. Smudges and all disappeared down hungry maws.
The time to resume work invariably arrived. And invariably, someone would say, “Let’s have another shot of coffee. We have a lot of work to do!”
And so they would have one more round of coffee, which also meant they got a bit more rest.
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