Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lighthouse Java

Like most writers, I drink a lot of coffee. I’m drinking it now. I write a few lines, I take a sip of coffee, write a little more, sip a little more. Every half hour or so, I trek from my office to the kitchen microwave to warm up my java or to refill it. Throughout the morning, I probably consume three to four cups of coffee. It fuels my brain, keeps my fingers tapping on the keyboard, and it stains my notes and sometimes my books--a not-so-unpleasant connection between me and my fellow scribes.

It’s a habit, of course, bad in some ways; yet, it tastes so delicious and smells so good, the cup warming my hands. I could have worse habits. I could fatten up my morning libation with too much sugar and cream or add Jack Daniels to it. (A 98 year old woman I used to care for in a nursing home did that, and look how long she lived!)  I could visit Starbucks every day and drop $30 a week on lattes and corporate wealth. I don’t. Most of the coffee I drink comes from my own kitchen. It fills my house with its robust, rich aroma, and the used-up grounds nourish my houseplants and rosebushes. The ritual each morning of making it provides comfort and constancy. I alternate coffee cups, depending on which one is in the dishwasher, between an oversized mug decorated with roosters and one with lighthouses—emblems of morning and coffee!
My coffee habit is hereditary, I think. My parents both were coffee drinkers, especially my father. He’s been gone over twenty years, but even today when I think of him I see that coffee cup in his hand and the brown ring inside it. He once told me that coffee was one of the things that got him through World War II, particularly the winter of 1943-44, which was terribly cold. I was probably five years old when Dad taught me how to set up the percolator with Eight O-Clock coffee grounds in the basket, and set it going—katta-katta-chewg, katta-katta-chewg. I still remember how he liked his coffee, with a splash of evaporated milk and two heaping spoons of sugar. (I use half & half and a no-calorie sweetener.)

Of late I’m hearing good things about java. It’s loaded with beneficial antioxidants, and it defends against diseases like type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, and liver cancer. The smell of it and the beep of the coffee-maker can wake me from a dead sleep. The caffeine helps me--I'm not a morning person at all!--perk up, be civil, and be able to think more clearly.

The Huffington Post recently ran an article by Renee Jacques called “Eleven Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee Every Day.” Several of them surprised me, such as coffee consumption being linked to happiness, intelligence, and lower suicide rates, and the aroma of coffee suggested as a stress reducer. Does that mean I’m happy, intelligent, and not apt to end my own life? Maybe I should have another cup right now!

Michael Koh, writing for called coffee “The Writer’s Addiction.” He said, tongue-in-cheek, that 110% of writers abuse this “substance.” I think that means all of us do...and then some. asks us to fill in the blank: “Water is to life as ______ is to writers.” It goes on to note, quite reassuringly for me at least, that some very famous writers fueled their pens with coffee: Walt Whitman, William Shakespeare, Gustav Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Honore de Balzac, L. Frank Baum, Jonathan Swift, T.S. Eliot, Jean-Paul Sartre, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
And, yes, Virginia Woolf, author of To the Lighthouse. She was a lighthouse fancier and a coffee swiller, just like me. (There’s hope for literary immortality!)
…all of which reminds me that coffee fueled lighthouse keepers too. The old U.S. Lighthouse Service records list a number of provisions that were provided free to lightkeepers, including coffee. It was almost as important as fuel for the beacon. The coffee pot was kept going 24/7 at lighthouses, a fact I can substantiate, having visited many lighthouses in the 2970s and 80s before automation and been offered a cup by Coast Guard keepers. Lighthouse coffee was always strong, and if you were tough, you drank it black. 

Lighthouse coffee was a remedy for the cold and dampness, it kept the crew alert, it warmed up the occasional visitor or castaway, and drinking it was a shared experience in an otherwise forlorn existence. Gathering around the table to have hot coffee and conversation was a regular activity among lightkeepers; it was balm for their loneliness.

To that, I’ll raise my cup of writer’s brew and invite you to enjoy some images of current brands of lighthouse coffee. Advertisers know the value in using a lighthouse to hawk their wares. Lighthouse coffee? It suggests warmth, richness, aroma, safety, and camaraderie.


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