My mother-in-law bought this percolator to use during her visits to our house. My french press wasn’t big enough. This weekend our gas was turned off to fix a leak, so with no stove, I was percolating.
This morning I’ve converted to the tiny machine because of an unexpected result – the smell of the coffee burning in between the glass carafe and the hot plate. It’s just a dribble that makes it down, but that drops sends out a burning smell that I didn’t know I needed.
Strange that charred coffee could hit such an emotional note for me, but smelling it I flew back in time to my grandparents house on the edge of Louisiana.
Cigarettes and coffee. Cigarettes and coffee. And that percolator was used so often that those drips of coffee down to the hot plate, that singed drop, that’s a smell I didn’t know was lodged in my memory until I singed the same drop in my own kitchen.
My aunt, my cousin and my Paw Paw live there now. The air in the Louisiana house is hazy in the morning. My Great Granny, she used to wake up earlier than all of us, brew a cup of coffee and smoke a cigarette at the dining room table. I would be on a pallet of blankets laid out on the shag carpet, usually waking up at the sound of Great Granny’s door, surrounded by a brother, a sister, some cousins. She would move around the kitchen without a word, then sit at the table, a silhouette with the tiniest coal floating before her.
The kitchen table is the happiest place in the house, smacked by well-played dominoes, covered in snacks, surrounded by laughing aunts and grand children. The second happiest place is the back porch where Paw Paw fries catfish. My little legs used to run across the lawn in the biggest backyard of my childhood. We played baseball, tag, caught fireflies darting between sky-scraping trees. Along the edge of the yard in a creek that is long dry now, we turned over coffee cans, landed them on the holes of crawdads to plunge them from the mud. We dangled into their dens ham tied to kite string, felt their tug at the lunch meat, screamed with delight.
Sometimes my mom and I would sit on the back porch just the two of us. I asked her questions about her parents, her sisters. She told me stories of my aunts as high school rebels, beauties on motorbikes. She told me camping stories and birthday stories and stories of moving around West Texas. Sometimes my aunts would join us on the porch, or we would join them for more dominoes at the kitchen table. Then coffee and cigarettes and stories of a family I only learned about over years and years of porch visits and sandwiches and short games of 42.
I miss them. I miss the aunts, the cousins, my Paw Paw, and especially my Grammi, a woman who could sit quietly alone while the house was filled with her guests. Suddenly, her voice would rise from her thinking chair and call over a grandchild, someone chosen for a special message, and you did feel it – you did feel chosen. She kept herself mysterious, and she delighted in sharing the mystery in long epiphanal conversations, always hinting at the truth and aiming just right of center.
This morning I made coffee, and the singed drop of it on the percolator hot plate overwhelmed me of memories of that house on the edge of the bayou, a world away from my everyday. My Grammi is buried close to the house with her parents and her grandparents and so many great aunts and great great uncles. I’ve laid flowers on their graves, driven the long drive back home. Sometimes you forget how you carry them with you