If her place wasn’t on my way home, or going somewhere, well it was just around the country corner. Why not drop in? I was always welcome. Greeted with a smile, fuchsia pink if her lipstick was on. The scents were earthy and homegrown: potatoes, juicy fat tomatoes, Dove soap.
If it was morning? She’d pour coffee, old style. Percolated. Black. Cream and sugar? No way. A woman did not need those extra calories. If I hadn’t eaten? I’d get breakfast too. Traditional: eggs, bacon, home fries, toast.
If it was late afternoon? She’d pour a rye and ginger. Perhaps dinner if I had no plans: a fresh salad from the garden, roasted meat and veg, boiled potatoes. With so many people always dropping by the farm, food was abundant in that house.
As was conversation. If it was just the two of us? She’d prod, want to know. What is going on?
Oh gee, I said. This guy at work is driving me nuts.
Well the horse races are heating up, I told her. There’s more races than ever now. I’m having trouble keeping up. It’s hard. Getting all those details down, the press releases out in time.
Hmmm, she said. Sipped her coffee. You know, Rita. Here she looked me in the eye, to see my truth. You can do it. You’re a good writer. You can do better.
Hmmm, I thought. She’s right.
I went to work that day and did better. Because she believed in me, which made me believe in me. I have a tendency to overthink things, make them more complicated than necessary. And I sometimes, well oftentimes, bring too much emotion to situations. Our coffee talk helped me focus, simplify.
She was always teaching me. I thought she was teaching me to become the person she was. For my kids, their spouses, their kids. I mean, I had a big enough house, over there. Three kids, just like her. Who’s to say they won’t be dropping in on me one day, just like this, for coffee talk?
Things don’t always turn out the way you expect, though. First, her youngest son, my husband, died mid-sentence, mid-laugh, mid-life. Then, she was diagnosed with cancer. That disease attacked her quickly, without mercy. And being the person she was? She showed no weakness, to me anyway. Was strong, stoic. Kept as busy as she could, crocheting skeins of wool into afghans so fast it’s a wonder she didn’t set the house on fire.
Always teaching. Before the diagnosis? How to be a lady. I know I’m more than capable of opening my own car door, she once told me. But, if a man wants to do it for me? That feels so good, so special. Why not let him?
On a discussion about celebrities getting face lifts, tummy tucks, etc. What ever happened to growing old gracefully? she asked.
While she was graceful in aging, unfortunately she didn’t get to grow that old. Her final teachings to me: how to accept a grave diagnosis. How to die. Gracefully.
And the teachings expanded from her to him, her husband, who I’d always fiercely respected, but saw as more assertive than gentle. It’s an image that won’t go. A man, married 50 years to a woman, who was fading before us like a frail bird. There, there, he said, as he tenderly placed orange slices, plump and succulent, into her mouth.
For years after, he became the one I dropped in on. He poured me coffee from a Thermos in the warm room at the barn. We sat on over-turned plastic buckets, lamenting our losses. I don’t see any way around it, he told me. You’re just going to have to go on. I watched him; I tried it. Eventually got the hang of it.
After he left us, I sold the house, the big one, over there. Two of my three kids moved west. I met and married a man way more interested in spending time in the kitchen than me.
The other day, I dropped in at my daughter’s place around noon. Am I in time for lunch? I joked as their giant golden doodle, Archie, tried to knock me over at the front door. He loves when I visit. My daughter’s son, six, was smiling like a Cheshire cat over a set of kids’ golf clubs his dad had gotten from a co-worker. The girls, 10 and eight now, had just come inside from playing and were sprawled in the TV room watching a kids’ show on Netflix.
I sat at their huge island and my daughter made me a latte. (With the growth of coffee culture, I’ve discovered it tastes pretty yummy to froth up the coffee from time to time.) After filling plates for her kids she made us a salad and toasted bagels. We yakked away, about the Elvis movie (loved it!), the remarkable images from the James Webb Space Telescope, the price of cherries (her younger daughter explained it’s due to the pandemic and inflation), family gossip.
Driving home, with a full belly-heart-mind, it hit me. Perhaps the drop in skipped a generation! She’s it now. My daughter is the drop in!
Memories of that warm farmhouse and cool barn prevail. There are times, still, when I picture all of us – my late husband’s family and friends – sitting out in the family room on a Friday night with drinks and Tony’s pizza, yakking and laughing away. The images are so vivid sometimes, I feel that it’s a place I could actually get back to, drop in on again. But time, like us, must go on. The page turns. People and scenes get shuffled around, new memories get plunked atop the old.