A Coffee Shop of One’s Own

by cheri block

Yesterday the rain cleansed and cooled the barranca in front of our desert home. The clouds moving east in the turbulent skies wore dark coats with swirling sopped paisley patterns, adorned with bulbous slate buttons of moisture. The scene was gorgeous.

To commemorate a rainstorm in the desert, I prepared a grilled cheese Panini accompanied by a petite bowl of tomato soup with basil. I sat down to eat, watching a small lake form among the cacti. I considered whipping up a strawberry shake, but something way back in the recesses of my mind told me to skip the shake.

Before I knew it, I was no longer in the desert.

*          *          *          *          *

My brother Stevie and I were sitting at a counter in a small coffee shop that hugged the banks of the mouth of the Klamath River in northern California. The year was 1960. I was ordering lunch for us. My father was fishing. Those were the days when two little kids could wander the docks unsupervised, making small talk with the Indians who gutted the salmon on a smelly workbench, sliding the roe and innards into the waiting mouths of mongrel dock dogs.

At the coffee shop, I took charge.IMG_0517

We’ll have two grilled cheese sandwiches, two bowls of tomato soup, and two strawberry milk shakes, please. And can you make those shakes really really thick? Thank you.

We were Hugh’s kids and while Hugh was fishing for super-sized Chinook salmon with Oscar Ginsaw, his Yurok Indian guide, we were hanging out with an unadulterated freedom unknown to kids today.

We shot the breeze with the woman behind the counter. I exaggerated from start to finish. When we had sucked the last drip of shake out of the tall and ribbed soda glasses—a grating noise that sounded like bicycle spokes batting my loose jeans—I bragged to all in attendance about how many German Shepherds we owned, how many friends I had, and how many teeth my father had pulled in a week.

What a storyteller you are little miss, said the waitress Lucille, whose name tag, I remember, was stained with a splotch of ketchup on it.

Lucille’s astute observation only added fuel to the bonfire that had started the moment I had climbed up on the red swivel stool and helped hoist Stevie up there next to me.

Well, I continued, we own five German Shepherds, I have 100 friends, and my dad pulls 50 teeth a week. In fact, I continued, one of our German Shepherds, Miss Dickens, is expecting a litter of probably, oh say, 15 puppies next week. One of my 100 friends, Sissy Hill, was California’s Junior Miss, and my dad made me a necklace with all of the teeth he pulled last month, mainly molars with a few bloody incisors for decoration.

 I might have kept the conversation going all day were it not for Stevie, who whispered that he had to go to the bathroom. He wanted to go back to the room at the Requa Inn.111129279

Oh, OK, I said, and we scooted off our stools, full of sandwich and shake, and skipped out the door.

*        *           *           *

Why this memory continues to circulate every now and then, especially when grilled cheese sandwiches rest on my plate, I do not know.

What I do know is that the sense of independence I felt at that time in my making uninhibited and free-ranging food choices and in my grandiose historical inaccuracy without parental correction had a cache that I relish to this very day.



About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life, My childhood and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

25 Responses to A Coffee Shop of One’s Own

  1. Cyberquill says:

    Let’s cut the woman behind the counter some slack. Obviously, the Lucille didn’t know any better than to compliment you on your story-telling skills. What she should have done is involve you in a conversation about race. #RaceTogether

  2. Maybe that’s what makes good storytellers. I was a primo embellisher myself. At the age of four I told someone I had 4 big brothers and my mother kept them locked in a closet and fed them bread and water. You can see where that leads.

  3. shoreacres says:

    Grilled cheese and tomato soup. The Ur-lunch, I swear. Even today, if things get just too bad, or ever so much better than I expected, I’ll resort to the combo. Tomato-basil’s my preference now, but I still like American slices on wheat. I did go through one period when the pattern varied, and I insisted on tomato soup and meat loaf for breakfast. My mother, bless her heart, obliged.

    I never was a story-teller, though. I was too shy. The family joke was that I was too shy to read a recipe aloud in front of the relatives, and that was pretty much true. I listened a lot, though. Every good storyteller needs some listeners.

    • Cheri says:

      You are surely a story-teller, Linda. You have a gift for choosing just the right word to convey your stories. I sometimes am lazy these days in that regard. Not sure why! Listening is a lost art. Are extroverts guilty of talking too much?

  4. Christopher says:

    Is the desert – where the rain fell, and where you had the irruption of your memory of the coffee shop of your youth – the same desert where Goodyear Arizona is, that you had spoken of in your last posting?

    You had spoken of “……anticipating my first Spring Training games—the Cleveland Indians vs. the San Diego Padres…….and ……the Cincinnati Reds vs. the San Francisco Giants………”

    Did you in fact attend these two games? If so, did they justify your excited anticipation? And…….who beat whom?

    In your “A Coffee Shop of One’s Own” posting, you had said of the subject coffee shop that you don’t know why your memory of it enters your mind whenever you see grilled cheese sandwiches as they rest on your plate.

    Well…….I’ll opine that it’s the smell of grilled cheese sandwiches, rather than the sight of them, that propels you back to that long ago coffee shop. It’s well known that smelling certain smells is a powerful stimulus for sending us back down time tunnels. This is definitely how it is with me.

    • Cheri says:

      We had a terrific time, sitting in 90 degree sun, eating hotdogs and watching professional practice games. Although most of the name players were not on the field for the Giants (except Joe Panik, Brandon Belt, and Romo) watching the fans was much more entertaining. Since the stadium is small, I was much more aware of how often people get up and out of their seats to go “wherever.” I found this distracting. I’m showing my age, Christopher.

      • Christopher says:

        Reading your memories of childhood and your evocations of baseball, I want now to re-read some of Ray Bradbury’s stories, many of which wonderfully conjured up childhood in small town America of the ‘fifties and earlier.

        Yes, your writing is quite Bradburyesque sometimes.

        • Cheri says:

          I find this a very curious response because although I taught Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles (which I LOVE) and F451, I know nothing of his stories about his childhood. Will you send me the names of the books? Bradburyesque…hmmmm…I kind of like it.

          • Christopher says:

            “…..Will you send me the names of the books?…..”

            Two of such stories (novelettes?) by Ray Bradbury which come to my mind, are, “Dandelion Wine”, and “Something Wicked This Way Comes”.

    • Cheri says:

      Oh yes, about the sense of smell summoning up memories. You are right. Whenever I smell honeysuckle, I think of my childhood backyard. What about you? What smells take you back to your childhood?

      • Christopher says:

        “…….What smells take you back to your childhood?……”

        The smell of foggy mist. Whenever I smell foggy mist, I’m catapulted back to that day when I was five or six, and my father took me on a hike up the side of Cape Town’s Table Mountain (my first six years were in Cape Town).

        We were enveloped in thick foggy mist, and I remember so well how the foggy mist smelled. It (the foggy mist) may well have been the cloud (the “tablecloth”) that descends regularly on Table Mountain.

        There was another man with us that day, and his German Shepherd dog……….

        “…….Memories, pressed between the pages of my mind
        Memories, sweetened through the ages just like wine………”

        • Cheri says:

          I love these memories. Makes me wonder how I could include a blogpost in which everyone who reads this blog might include such memories. They are so tender. Thank you so much!

  5. Thanks for a visual and delightful story that grabbed a hold of a little bit of my history and some existential looking back for me, Cheri. Didn’t we all enjoy going to those soda shops and drinking from straw on a spinning stool or crammed together six to a booth? I remember a pack of girls (of which I was one) combing our youthful hair and the waitress coming over to tell us – Stop!

    And on your question above about scents attached to memories from childhood I would say olive oil heating up for popcorn popping, a single hyacinth I bought my mother at Easter, Gradmom McCart’s cedar chest and its secret treasures within, and the lilacs growing in the backyard of a woman in our neighborhood named Mary who had polio, wore long braces she clamped on each morning, but still managed to drive and hold down two jobs.

    Hugs from PA,

    • Cheri says:

      Oh, your evocative memories draw out more of my own. I love the phrase “pack of girls” and your description of Mary. Olive oil for popcorn popping!
      If you are ever near SF, we will have a bottle of Rancholivo olive oil from our orchard next year to deliver to you.

  6. Brighid says:

    I had forgotten the days of being given a few coins to take my little brother for a shake at the Woolworth’s counter while mom shopped. Setting on the slick red stools, and being given the metal container with the leftover shake because the glass couldn’t hold it all.

  7. Richard says:

    As the sense of smell diminishes over the years to a fraction, you learn only of your loss by the reputed presence of a sweet hyacinth, the love of a red rose or the sorrow of newly-mown grass.

    Gone are the cutting perils of the sea, the first crossing of the Solent, the musky ozone of the London Underground as you are led, Ariadne-like, through the maze of tunnels by an all-knowing parent or the drips of stalagmites in the homes of our far-distant ancestors.

    In Springtime, bluebell woods carry you not heavenwards. Sultry summer no longer lies lazily with the hay harvest.

    Some vestiges remain, but you have to hunt them out: your first dew on the lilac, the intoxicating intensity of the philadelphus or the lavender. Never again are you lured unexpectedly and involuntarily to life’s other universes by wafts of delicious harmonies or the clinging warmth of a babe-in-arms.

    The moving warnings of the unwashed, the vomit in the street and the rape of pollution never cease.

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