READINGS | “One Cup At a Time: A National Coffee Day Memoir”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today—Sept. 29, 2020—is National Coffee Day. Connie Kinsey, WestVirginiaVille’s Minister of Paragraphs, has something to say about that, as she tells her life story filtered through coffee beans

Unsplash Photo: Courtesy of Jon Tyson

CONNIE KINSEY | Sept. 29, 2020 | WestVirginiaVille

My father is steering the car with his knees while barreling down Route 66 and pouring a cup of coffee from a green Stanley thermos. It is late at night. My mother and I are asleep or so he thinks. Just as he puts the cup to his mouth, I whisper “Hot” in his right ear.

It is 1960, long before car seats and car cup holders. I am 15-months-old and learning to talk. That cup of coffee nearly ends up all over the front of my dad.  

“Yes, Punkin. Hot.” 

Coffee has born witness to the great events and the tiny ones, the happy and the sad.

So began my interest in coffee.

Coffee has punctuated my life as exclamation points, commas, periods, and missed periods. Coffee has born witness to the great events and the tiny ones, the happy and the sad. The momentous and the mundane.  

I don’t remember my first cup of coffee, but I’ve been drinking it regularly since I was 14 or 15. I’ve loved it from the get-go. I drink it black; my father, the Marine, forbad anything else.

There was a brief flirtation with cream in the 1980s, but I quickly outgrew that. Every now and again, I will have a frou-frou coffee drink like a mocha, but that is exceedingly rare. Iced coffee is just an abomination. Coffee should be steaming, black, and robust with the heady aroma of dreams yet to be realized. 

Unsplash: Courtesy of Evelyn Semenyuk

I am fond of saying that sometimes coffee is just a caffeine delivery system and sometimes coffee is a religious experience. The former is a necessity and the latter a blessing. 

Throwing full, half-full, or sometimes empty, cups of coffee at the wall when mad used to be a habit of mine. For a few years, there was that satisfying flick of the wrist that sent the cup soaring when I was peeved beyond what I could bear. We always had heavy stoneware mugs so they seldom broke. The only repercussion was cleaning up the mess. I probably stopped about the time I was in my first apartment and the walls that I had to clean were the same ones I had painstakingly painted eggshell white over multiple layers of a hideous Pepto Bismol-tinted beige. 

I wanted to throw the coffee cup the night my dad died.

I threw a coffee cup when my parents grounded me from seeing my boyfriend after I had skipped school. I threw a coffee cup when Mike and Rick came over to tell me that my best friend, Sherri, had died in a motorcycle accident.  I wanted to throw the coffee cup the night my dad died. But it wasn’t my house or my cup and I was too upset—I needed the elixir in the cup to get through that—on what may have been the worst night of my life. 

There have been moments of great sorrow and anger, but also moments of deep joy. Moments of frustration and moments of deep contentment. All witnessed with a cup of coffee. 

Unsplash Photo: Courtesy of Jessica Lewis

I went to England in 1998 and couldn’t find brewed coffee anywhere. It was all instant. I grew increasingly annoyed and would have thrown a cup of coffee—had I one to throw—but, alas. Ten days later, I left, and during a middle-of-the-night layover in Toronto, an Internet friend came and took me to an Italian bakery. It was summertime. The air was warm and soft as we sat outside at a table with an umbrella and listened to the street noise of Toronto at 2 a.m.

It was a quiet, reverent moment until my friend became visibly upset, stood up, and exclaimed, “Damn, I locked the keys in the car.” I drank the second cup of coffee waiting on the tow truck to come rescue us. The coffee served that night might have been the best cup of coffee of my life, if you don’t count the one I drank at that McDonald’s the morning I gave birth.  

That morning, in 1985, when my son was born ten weeks premature, is a day seared into my memory. His birth was the best day of my life. He was born at 3:01 a.m. He was quickly whisked off to the NICU for care, while I was returned to my room.

A good cup of coffee is a religious experience .

By 6 a.m., my family had all left and the hospital breakfast had arrived. It came with decaf—no real coffee in hospitals back in the ’80s. I hadn’t had coffee during my pregnancy. I was on an adrenaline rush. His birth had been fraught with danger and fear, and it had all turned out okay. He was going to be fine.

I was in the mood to celebrate. I put on my robe, walked down the hallway, and eventually out the front door to the McDonald’s across the street where I had my first cup of coffee in months.  

I’m sure I was a spectacle. Somewhere, someone tells a story about the morning the woman in the bathrobe sauntered into the McDonald’s. It wasn’t the first time I was a spectacle, nor the last, and most of my spectacle moments, too, have been punctuated with coffee. 

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

My son married in Spain this past summer. There, they drink espresso out of tiny little cups. The coffee maker in my hotel room came with a thimble-sized cup and the coffee was so strong it could bench press 400 lbs. I took to ordering from room service a pot of coffee (lots of espresso) and a pot of hot water. I would then make my own Americano. It was tedious. It was expensive. And it was inconvenient.  

I had the third-best cup of coffee of my life on the plane coming home from Spain. Yes, really. On the plane. Jokes about airline food aside. I closed my eyes and savored every drop of that cup of coffee while flying at 36,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean.

And then I had a second.  

A good cup of coffee is a religious experience—it ties body and soul together in a warm, fragrant embrace that should always be treated with the respect and reverence it deserves.  

Yes, coffee punctuates my life.

As I write this, I can’t remember a single noteworthy event that didn’t involve a cup of coffee. Not a one. Since I always have a cup of coffee with me, that’s not too surprising.

But I’m ever on the quest for my fourth-best cup of coffee. 


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PRESS RELEASE: Our Office of Paragraphs’ Ministers Up: Connie Kinsey of Ona, W.Va., will be joining the WestVirginiaVille Office of Paragraphs. She will offer advice and consultation on the best paragraphs of non-fiction and fiction prose to include on the site.

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