Today, I want to talk about Nicaraguan coffee. For the longest time, I thought my grocery budget was too tight to step up to fair trade, but. Well. Hmm. When I cook, I have running water, a dishwasher and a refrigerator. I don’t have to gather wood for my stove. The folks who pick my coffee beans deserve some of that, too. I can give the extra 2 bucks. But today, I don’t want to talk about fair trade.
Today, I want to talk about Nicaraguan coffee. The descriptions I found online indicate “a mild, fruity brightness…a dark, nutty bouquet…” I added my usual sprinkle of cinnamon to the grounds and waited. Mr. Coffee® made his burbling morning conversation, and the file clerk in my head began to scour the recesses of my culinary experience, determined to identify that familiar aroma.
I poured my first cup and breathed deeply. Ahh…hhh…hmmm?
I sipped. Instantly, I was in Springfield, Missouri, and it was November, 1997 in Ross’s auto shop. The coffee took me there, but I’ll take you back a few weeks further. In October, 1997, I came home from work one night, and Richard handed me the phone. I said, “Hello?” It was Richard’s brother. I’d yet to meet any of Richard’s family, but I’ve since learned that his brother Mike can talk me into anything.
“Hey, you guys want to move to Missouri and help our stepdad run his auto shop?”
I hung up, and Richard told me he’d meant for me to say no. He has since learned that it’s best not to give me an opportunity if he doesn’t want me to take it.
We packed everything our exes had left us and headed into a new life. In June, 1997, we began a rebound relationship that has lasted 18 years now. The summer had been reckless and romantic, but that winter we drove under grey skies, beside grey rock, with him in that greasy grey uniform. We began to cope with our grey hearts. But we had family. His mom was tough and funny. His stepdad, Ross, embodied every reason we love wiry old Italian guys in the movies. Mike made me listen to Ozzy and patiently explained Crazy Train to me. The bond was made.
This morning, I sipped my Nicaraguan coffee and motor oil, tobacco and steel filled my nose with every sip. Is there motor oil in Nicaraguan coffee? Probably not. It might even have nuts or fruit or some silliness, but the scent of the shop-strong coffee takes me to another place.
That is what I want to talk about. We have this weird wiring, and it’s useful for survival. Whether you’re a dog or a deer or a human, a single trigger turns on the shower and instantly you’re soaked in much more than the essence of that one thing. Sometimes, it’s pleasant. Other times, it’s painful. In either case, it’s vital that we recognize it, because it influences the way we respond.
Our lover does something and we react to pain from a prior relationship.
We meet someone new and in some way they remind us of a time we felt special. We fail to recognize that this is not that time or that person.
We repeatedly go back to foods, substances or activities because they remind us of good times we had, long after the pacifiers cease to bring us good times.
We relax and let go of racing thoughts when we wrap up in that quilt Mom made or turn on that table saw Uncle Joe left behind.
We put on our go-to music from college because it brings back that feeling that we can be anything we want to be and helps us get the job done.
This weird wiring we have is not inherently a bad thing. Sensory triggers can be a struggle for those who deal with addiction, but they are also used in therapy for stroke and Alzheimer’s patients. If you’re a parent, it’s important to understand how sensory triggers can affect your children, not necessarily by bringing back memories, but by simply affecting attitudes.
I added vanilla almond milk to the coffee. It still smells like motor oil to me, but I wore vanilla sandlewood body oil that year, so the memory is complete. Ross and Sandra are gone now, but I tip my cup to them.
Thank You, Lord, for the rich gift of memory and the simple triggers it requires. We think You’re a genius. Guide us as we go, in Jesus’ name. Amen.