Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Black Coffee: A True Story With No Change

Today I write a simple story with a complex meaning. Read it for what it’s worth to you, but I suggest you read it to the end where there's space for your comments and concerns:

Many years ago, it was my father who drank his coffee black; my mother loved her morning blend with ample amounts of additives: the basic milk/cream/half&half and sugar.

Though my perception was that Dad was far from a health nut, he regularly chided Mom for her demand for the coffee softeners. It wasn’t every morning that he suggested, “Annie Laurie, you should really learn to drink your coffee black to allow yourself to enjoy the true taste that comes through with a freshly brewed.” Or something as such. Nearly every day.

One morning Dad challenged Mom to give it a try but, he told her, that one day would not be enough to break her from the milk/cream/half&half and sugar routine. He said, “First take a sip and let’s see your reaction.”

She did which resulted in a face that exclaimed a bitter taste. She didn’t want to have any part of it, but Dad got her to drink the entire black cup of coffee that day and not have another made her way. In doing so, he challenged her to drink black-only coffee for 21 straight days, three complete weeks. He promised at the end, she would stick with black.

The second day brought the same bitter reaction from Mom. Dad chuckled and said she would eventually see his way. Days 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 were much of the same. The second week was like the first and then came days 15-21.

No different than the previous two weeks. Maybe it seemed to Dad that Mom’s reaction to black-only coffee was subsiding; maybe he thought he would win the challenge. He was encouraged as Mom drank cup after cup of black coffee for the final week.

Dad’s thought process was simple. He was encouraging a behavioral change for Mom. He was trying to show that habits can be overcome, that removing oneself from a situation is the way to make a change for the better, the better in his mind. He was convinced that by Mom staying distant from the milk/cream/half&half and sugar for 21 days that she would be able to do so forever.

Then came day 22. Mom was seated at the dining room table as usual for breakfast. The coffee was perked by Dad. He poured a substantial cup but this time, unlike that of the previous 21 days, he allowed for space at the top for what Mom had previously introduced on a regular basis. He supplied a spoon, the sugar bowl and a small pitcher of milk/cream/half&half.

“OK, Annie Laurie,” he encouraged. “Now fix your coffee as you wish, as you did before this challenge.”

She obliged, dishing in at least a full spoon full, maybe two, of sugar. She poured a substantial amount of the white liquid, filling the cup nearly to the brim. So as not to spill a drop along the outer edges of the cup, Mom cautiously stirred the combination of coffee and the sugar and the milk/cream/half&half, and then placed the spoon in the saucer.

Carefully but surely, she reached for the cup and raised it to her lips, taking deep breaths of the elixir through the nose so she could get the full flavor into her system before the liquid hit her tongue. Then she sipped, not once but twice.

Dad watched and waited. He knew she would wince, just knowing she had developed a taste for black coffee and that as bitter as the 21 days had been, the sweetness of what she had just tasted would push her back to black only. But he was wrong.

As Mom lowered the cup to the saucer, a smile like no other before, came across her face. She had an expression of pure joy, unlike the 21 days of misery she had been through by not having what she wanted. “Mmmmmmm!,” she said. “Now that’s good coffee.”

I am much like my mother.