Irene Worthington Baron


by Irene Baron

The aroma of coffee would break through my senses as I lay in bed as a child.  

Upon rising to find my parents downstairs, as I approached the kitchen the smell of coffee would get stronger.  I bet if I closed my eyes I could find where open cups of coffee would be in the house. Sometimes  I would find my standing father holding a mug with two hands, inhaling the aroma before each sip.  He had already consumed his first mug of coffee with quick and long swallows. The second was a mug to savor. Taking his time, he didn’t really look at anything, but let his mind enjoy the opening of his senses. The mug was hot at first and cooled as the heat was absorbed into his palms and fingers. The mug against his skin was warming on a cold winter morn or fresh summer dawn. His coffee was always topped with cream.

The milkman delivered six quarts of milk to the steps of our back door every other day. For a family of five with three growing children, it was barely enough. The glass bottles in which the milk was packed each had a small cardboard lid. The lid easily popped off in the winter freeze as milky translucent crystals would rise in a cylindrical column above the bottle tops as the water within the milk froze. The milk was not homogenized. When delivered, cream was always at the top. My parents poured the cream into a container which was placed in the refrigerator to save for their coffee. The skim milk was used for drinking and cooking. As children, we didn’t drink much water when thirsty. We always went for the milk and were the healthiest kids on the block.

It was rare to find my father sitting on a weekday morning at the kitchen table. If he did, it was with the morning newspaper in front of him. He was usually gone from the house by six thirty and wouldn’t arrive home until after five in the evening. A hard worker, the pause of a good mug of coffee in the morning was a pleasure not enjoyed during the rest of the day. Before he left for work, he emptied the freshly brewed pot of coffee into a worn, light green and battered metal thermos. He added no cream to it. Other than coffee, his beverage of choice for work was a glass gallon of water into which was sliced a lemon or two.

My mother collected delicately designed and fragile porcelain cups and saucers from England, France, China and Japan.  She used these to drink her coffee when she had leisure time. The cups were for her use as my father couldn’t get a finger through their handles. If he did hold one, his large fingers had difficulty grasping the small handle. His large hands made the flowery and translucent china cups resemble a toy. As a child, I wasn’t allowed to use such breakable items.

Once in a while, if I asked politely and with a “please,” I would be given a tall glass of the beverage. My mother would pour about a fourth of an inch of coffee in the glass and fill the rest of it with milk until it became a creamy light tan color. A teaspoon full of sugar was always added to make it delectable. When I was favored with such a concoction, I felt so grown up. I would sit at the kitchen table and drink it slowly like my parents drank their coffee. It made me feel like I was enjoying a forbidden balm. As a child, I never knew there were different flavors of coffee. Coffee was coffee. No matter when I was allowed to have some, it always tasted the same. To me, a coffee bean was a coffee bean, no matter which metal store bought container held it.

 My father put coffee beans in the top of his wooden coffee grinder, slid the metal cover over the beans, and begin to turn the large metal handle at the top.  The instant coffee smell which filled the room was delicate and fresh. You could almost taste the air. Ground coffee would pour into a little drawer at the base of the  grinder. That little drawer of ground coffee would be used to fill the cylindrical metal strainer resting on the center hollow metal rod in the glass coffee pot. A lid was placed on the strainer. It also had the small holes to allow water to move through it. The base of the rod was splayed out to cover the bottom of the pot. As the water came to a boil, the bubbles of air forming at the base would be trapped. They could only rise through the hollow rod. Carrying water with them, the bubbles rose. The inside of a thick Pyrex  pot lid was shaped to arc the rising water  down into the strainer of ground coffee. Boiling water would move through the strainer lid, into the grounds and fall through the sieve-like holes at the bottom of the strainer as a clear and rich brown liquid. Eventually, the color of the water in the pot would indicate when to remove the pot from the flame. My father enjoyed the first cup of coffee from the pot which was fresh, fragrant, and full of rich flavor.

If they let it boil too long, coffee would become too strong and bitter to drink. The acrid odor would permeate the house. 

When my mother later became an interior decorator, she also used a mug to sit on a large industrial desk as she did ordering and accounting. The coffee mug would sit to her right on the desk top, the ashtray for her chain smoked cigarettes sat at the left of her work space. The mug always had coffee in it, no matter what time of day it was. The ashtray always had a wavering column of smoke rising from it when the cigarette was not at her mouth. The coffee and cigarette smell would meld into one another to become stale as the day progressed. 

Coffee smells, rich brown colors, changing opaqueness of the liquid as it ages, changing tastes, the feel of hot and sometimes burning liquid against the tongue ... these bring back childhood memories of our kitchen, my parents enjoying their coffee, smiles, laughter and good times.



Leave a comment: