Better Cup o’ Joe

by Carolin Messier



At home Dad drank Taster’s Choice decaf instant.
On the road he’d pour himself a cup
from the round-bellied glass pot,
scorched on its warming plate at the Seven Eleven.
He was ahead of his time,
before sippy-cups were marketed to busy grown-ups,
he used his red Swiss Army knife to cut a flap from the lid
so he could drink it in the car without soiling his tie.
Its searing temperature
leached fumes from the styrofoam
adding more chemicals along with the non-dairy creamer
and Sweet-n-Low from the pretty pink packets.
Caffeine-free and bitter,
his two cups a day were neither a physical need
nor a pleasure.
At most it was a habit
begun in basic training, continued at the officers’ club.
He didn’t believe in unfettered indulgences.
Pineapple upside-down cake, his favorite,
he ate once a year, baked by my mother
on his birthday.
And he’d nurse his Christmas bottle
of Chevas Regal 12 year blended scotch whisky,
the good stuff, he called it,
for an entire year.

After his example of extravagant frugality,
I parsed out my Halloween candy
until Easter.
And looked forward each year to
my mother baking my favorite
Duncan Hines Cherry Chip Cake,
the good stuff, I called it,
for my birthday.
But once I grew beyond my father’s example
and traveled to other tables
where coffee was freshly brewed from just-ground beans
and served at 3 o’clock in matching porcelain cups
with tarts, gateaux, and bowls of peaked whipped cream;
served with welcome, generosity, and pride,
without judgment, shame, or mention of sin;
I learned
to feel the pleasure of the warm cup between my hands,
to relish inhaling its toasted aroma in my nostrils,
to enjoy the glazed texture of the cup’s rim on my lips,
and to savor its exotic taste across my tongue.
French pressed, filter-poured, or espresso pulled
I learned the value of
self-acceptance over guilt,
joy over penance,
and gratitude over fear.

Dad, you deserved
a better cup o’ joe.