I walk into the coffee shop and breathe in deep, savoring that familiar aroma. The smell of coffee, with a hint of hazelnut, vanilla, mocha, and just a touch of cinnamon. There’s only one place in the world other than a coffee shop that smells like that—Grandmother’s house.
Grandmother didn’t just like her coffee, and it wouldn’t really do her justice to say she loved her coffee. Grandmother was to coffee what a sommelier is to wine. She knew the intricacies of coffee, the different tastes and even the textures. And only the best would do for her. No instant coffee, or coffee bought at the grocery store. She had to have fresh coffee, from a respectable coffee shop. “The morning cup of coffee sets the tone for the whole day,” she used to say.
I used to go to Grandmother’s every Sunday morning. Her routine was always the same. She would kiss me once on each cheek, hang up my coat and lead me into the kitchen, slice a piece of banana bread right out of the oven (sometimes cranberry), and pour a cup of freshly brewed coffee.
“Alexa,” she said to me one day. “Did you know that every person’s personality is like a flavor of coffee?”
“Really?” I said, amused at how Grandmother relished her coffee so much that she related everything to it.
“Ye” she said. “You, my dear, are French vanilla. You are sweet, almost sickeningly so at times to the discerning coffee drinker.” I slightly recoiled at Grandmother’s assessment of me. You expect your grandmother to call you sweet, but never sickeningly sweet.
“Your father is espresso,” she continued. “He comes on strong. There are many people who don’t like him, but others can’t live without that high feeling that he gives them. He has an addictive personality that many people can’t let go of.”
“Let me guess Grandmother. You’re hazelnut.”
“Hazelnut? Why on earth would you say that?”
“Because I find your coffee talk a bit nutty.”
I smiled at Grandmother, but I could tell she was not amused. “Alexa dear, I am trying to teach you a lesson about life here. I do not need you poking fun at me.”
A lesson about life? Is she kidding? “Grandmother, you can’t dissect a person’s personality by comparing them to a cup of coffee. People are more complex than that. Everyone has nuances personality quirk things that make them different. You just can’t go around saying, ‘She’s a dark roast, he’s an instant, he’s a mocha almond.”
Grandmother looked at me, almost a blank, dull stare. “Then you just don’t understand coffee,” she snapped, clearing my plate and coffee cup from the table. “I guess not,” I sighed, exasperated at my hazelnut grandmother.
I went to Grandmother’s house many more times after that, and she always kept her same routine. It was a welcome routine, one that I enjoyed every week. Grandmother didn’t talk to me after that about the “coffee catastrophe” as I called it, but eventually, she did start to make more ridiculous claims concerning her favorite drink.
“I knew your grandfather was the right man for me because we loved our coffee the same way,” she said. “Cream with just a touch of sugar.”
I rolled my eyes. “Grandmother, many people like it that way.”
“I disagree,” she said. “For most people, if they prefer cream, they like a lot of sugar, or at least a moderate amount. Those who drink it with just a touch of sugar usually put milk in it, or drink it black.”
“So what if Papa preferred his coffee black? Or with milk and sweetener? Does that mean that you would have never married? That I wouldn’t be here today?”
“Oh don’t be silly,” Grandmother said. “I won’t think about your grandfather preferring his coffee any differently. I don’t know what would have become of us. But you, my dear Alexa, belong to me. You would be here no matter what.”
The last time I saw Grandmother was a Sunday just like all the others. I sat down at the table with Grandmother and she looked at me with a very intense look in her eyes.
“Do you ever think about heaven?” she asked me.
I stared at Grandmother and stopped chewing for a moment.
“Well, do you?” she asked again.
“Umm, not really,” I said, growing increasingly uncomfortable with this line of conversation.
“Well, I’ve been thinking about it lately,” Grandmother said. “I mean, I am getting to that age where I realize that I don’t have much more time here on earth. And I’ve just been thinking lately about heaven—and what’s there and what’s not. And I just hope that when it’s my time to leave this world, the next one has everything that I love here.”
“And what’s that, Grandmother?”
“Good food, good people, and good coffee.”
I smiled at Grandmother’s simplicity and love for the good things in life. And I hoped that she would find exactly what she would be looking for in the next world.
Grandmother passed away later that week. They found her sitting in her favorite rocker in the living room, half a cup of freshly brewed coffee by her side. And somehow, I knew that it was a sign that everything would be all right for Grandmother.
Now, years later, I’m frequently reminded of my Grandmother. The scent of freshly baked banana bread, or the way someone will kiss me on my cheek will bring a quick flashback of her. But my memories are always most vivid when I step foot into a coffee shop, the aroma of freshly roasted beans and brewed coffee livening my senses.
“What would you like?” the person at the counter asks me.
“A medium hazelnut,” I say. “Cream with just a touch of sugar.”