Scientists tell us that our sense of smell is the sense most closely related to memory. I have to say I agree. It only takes a whiff of freshly brewed coffee to transport me back to my childhood. Yes, my olfactory sense works better than H.G. Wells' time machine. One moment I am comfortably seated in mid-western suburbia; the next moment I am sitting in the kitchen of Grandmother Randel's house in Tampa, Florida.
Grandmother Randel, like most Southern Belles, was a marvelous cook, and an even better cook-supervisor. A steady supply of cheese grits, collard greens and fried chicken flowed out of the kitchen under her discerning eye, but when it came to coffee ? Grandmother reigned supreme.
I remember Grandmother fussing around her electric percolator in the mornings. She never measured the ingredients ? freshly ground coffee, chicory, a pinch of salt and maybe an egg would be deftly placed within the gleaming appliance. Rich delicious coffee came out of that pot but the catch was, it wasn't for me. Friends and neighbors would come by the house to gather in the large, comfortable sitting room and sip the steaming hot coffee while they discussed the problems of the day whether of the community (this was never called 'gossip') or of the world.
Coffee was only for grown-ups; however, on special occasions, Grandmother would turn to me and say, "Leah, baby, how would you like some coffee-milk?" Coffee-milk. The nectar of the gods should be so sweet. For the price of a big smile and a nod, I would watch carefully as she lifted the chrome-covered coffee percolator and gingerly poured a small amount of its coveted contents into my mug. A small carafe of warmed milk sat on the back of the stove waiting to fill the cup to the rim. A heaping spoonful of sugar was the finishing touch.
Topeka, Kansas, is a long way from Grandmother Randel's house, but as I sit in Lola's Café, there is that split moment of memory that moves through my mind before I even feel it begin. The memory has a name ? coffee milk. The feeling of anticipation that comes over me is the same as it was at Grandmother's house, but at this coffee shop and others that I visit, some things have changed; it's called Caffe Ole or Latte now. The cost has changed, too. A smile must be joined by nearly three dollars to receive your portion of nectar.
Here in my corner of Lola's I watch a steady stream of customers come through the door. The wood and set-in glass of that entry gives light and warmth to the interior. I wonder what sort of person leaves house and home to drive to Lola's...