What We Remember

“What is this?”

I’m back home in Connecticut for a few days, standing at the counter of a coffee shop. A few minutes before, as I passed the coffee shop, I impulsively pull into the parking lot. I can’t ever remember being in the coffee shop, and I only have one memory of actually drinking their coffee. But the place still pervades my childhood memories, because my dad and my grandpa always got coffee from there.

The girl behind the counter smiles to hide her confusion.

“It’s your cup of coffee”, she says.

“No, come on,” I respond. “Where are the yellow cups? You know, those yellow cups with the brown lettering on them? How come this cup is white?”

Really, I had only gone into the coffee shop to see that cup. A cup that had a permanent place in my grandpa’s cupholder in his truck from 1996–2009. Mostly he kept the truck clean, but there was always a yellow cardboard cup in the cupholder, old coffee stains on the inside. The cups always had fat construction pencils in them. I used to think that my grandpa used the pencils because he had such enormous, leathery hands. I figured that it was easier for him to write with an overlarge pen between his meaty fingers than a flimsy, normal sized one.

The cup and the pencils and the truck were all part of my childhood. My grandpa used to come by my house in the morning to pick me up for school. He would bring me a Portuguese roll with butter, patent yellow coffee cup in hand. The coffee was milky brown, filled with sugar and cream. In those days, I didn’t drink coffee, but the rich, sweet smell always made me happy.

We would climb into his orange truck and chat until I got to school. On Fridays, he always brought me a candy bar and a scratch off lottery ticket. I would root around the dashboard or floor until I found loose change. Then, I’d eagerly scratch at the ticket and watch over my grandpa’s shoulder as he determined if we had won anything or not. We only won once, it was only five dollars and I don’t even remember if my grandpa collected the reward. But it made Fridays special, and I still remember our routine now.

I remember those car rides. My grandpa’s full, silver hair. How his fingernails were warped from years of construction work. The rosary beads hanging from the rearview mirror. And those old, yellow coffee cups.

The young girl at the counter gives a breathy, nervous laugh. “Yellow cups? I’m not familiar with them — must be before my time”. I look at her more closely and realize that she can’t be more than 16 or 17.

I want to tell her the whole thing — the orange car, the yellow cup, the red pencils. But I just smile and grab the white cup of coffee. “Yup,” I nod. “Before your time”.

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