Time, my archenemy, randomly jumped ahead one hour over the weekend. It doesn’t surprise me, he is very difficult to manage.
Time and I don’t get along. He thinks I am wasteful and I think he is unreasonable.
Occasionally though, we do meet up over a cup of coffee, sit quietly, and collectively reminiscence.
This is solid proof that coffee breeds civility.
When I was a young kid I actually wanted to I be a coffee shop waitress when I grew up.
I knew this with as much certainty as I knew there was an Easter Bunny or that the Tooth Fairy carried magic sleeping dust in her pockets in case of emergencies. I wanted to wear one of those polyester dresses with the piping around the collar, and have a little rectangular plate pinned to my chest with my name etched into it. I would call people “honey” and pour their caffeine from a glass bulbed carafe, and when they were ready to leave I’d merrily chirp, “have a nice day,” as they slid smiling from their booths.
It was my dream job.
This may have been because my father’s eldest sister was a career waitress. She worked at a coffee shop that still exists today in downtown Greenville, and a bigger diner on Highway 82 that was attached to a motel. I thought she got to live in the motel, and so that made her job seem all the more magical.
I loved the few times my parents took me to eat there. She waited on us and would bring me a saucer of tiny half-n-half’s that I sucked right from their little containers.
My aunt, a painfully thin woman, had a worn and wrinkled face. It seems Time was not her friend either. Her hair was the color of a rusty tin can, and I knew even then that it was a bad dye-job.
I enjoyed staring at her in the creepy way children do,
but she never cared.
Her voice was raspy from cigarettes and whenever she laughed it ended in a hacking, kind of uncontrollable cough.
She laughed a lot.
She also loved to talk, and always seemed to make time to talk to me as if I were an adult.
She made herself even more interesting because she was single, after being married more than once. I didn’t know back then that it was okay for a grown woman to be single. In the end she said she “didn’t need a man because with a man came trouble.”
She had run away from home when she was a teenager and ended up in Oklahoma married to a real-life cowboy with a kind countenance named Pat, whom she brought back to Mississippi. He was older than she was and had spent some time in prison for hitting a man in the head with a shovel and killing him. My daddy, who was a little boy then, asked him why he did it.
Pat just replied, “The guy had it comin’.” My father said it seemed like an acceptable answer.
I never met Pat, he was out of the picture before I was born, but I feel I would have wanted to stare at him too. I think he would have let me.
Once my aunt gave me one of those green order pads that waitress’s use, a clairvoyant gift, since I would become a actual waitress during college.
No surprise that it was not as dreamy as I had hoped for, but I was freakishly good at.
During that time I learned a lot about the human psyche and I can tell you with perfect confidence that if you ever want to know the true nature of a person, the real element of their character, then be their waiter or waitress.
Maybe one day I’ll write about it.
Until then, my advice is to be kind, and if you can’t be kind, then stay home.
At any rate, I sometimes miss it, even though the places I worked were not like those classic coffee shops I got to visit as a child. I wonder if there are very many of those left.
Modern coffee shops are too quick and too complicated.
I was discussing all of this with my husband one night recently as we sat in a restaurant having dinner and I made a confession to him. When I die and enter into the afterlife I don’t want to see streets of gold, or pearly gates. Those things seem cold and gaudy.
Instead, I hope for a transition.
I want to find myself meandering down a bright city street that’s clean, colorful and warm, until it ends at a busy corner coffee shop. I want to enter with the jingling of a bell, and look around to realize every face has been expecting me and each one is lovingly familiar. I imagine that I will sit down in a bright red Naugahyde chair and belly up to a chromed-trimmed table. I will sip coffee there heavy with cream, from a thick, ecru colored cup. The flavor of smoke and the fragrance of food will swirl upward like prayers to cling to the ceiling, and in the background there will be laughter and the clanking of silverware. Nothing will be disposable, not dishes, or names, or feelings. The tastes will be hearty and whole and high in calories. The only thing organic in the entire room will be the souls and voices of its people.
Maybe my aunt will stroll over, her face smooth and her voice redeemed, and refill my cup. She will sit with me, along with a real-live cowboy named Pat.
There will be others too, characters from my past, connections to my heart.
Time will be there, across the room, perched on a bar stool, grinning at me as if to say, “Honey, take as long as you want, because neither of us has any place to be.”
Then I will wait in anticipation to be taken to see the face of the One who loves me the most, Beautiful and Perfect, gleaming in white, and the smell of coffee will go there with me lightly lingering on my clothes.
My cup runneth over. (Psalm 23:5)