Her baby wore a cotton sun hat, and I saw her at the old park that nearly met the expressway. We were neighbors, people that fell into the same space of time which would eventually lead us to forge a rich, strong friendship.
Now, I miss her.
We hadn’t become close friends until she moved away; I find this as no sort of rare occurrence, and something that happens not just with people, but with anything that comes to be held dear.
Sometimes there is a palpable break, an event, a transition, a falling out, a loss. There may be suffering, sadness, despair. Often, though, time steals away the memory until once again, unexpectedly, it emerges.
That’s what happened with my friend. That’s definitely what happened with the cinnamon coffee.
When Dan and I first set up house together in our Oak Park apartment, our morning routine always included adding a teaspoon (measured by the worn tin scoop that was connected by a ring to its graduated counterparts) of discount grocery store cinnamon to the Mr. Coffee with clear Leona’s influence.
I must have been in college when we first went to Leona’s, the fairy vision of a restaurant in the new wave hub of Chicago, where the best part of the meal, besides, of course, the cinnamon coffee, was the tiny complimentary plate of Italian cookies, some decorated with sparkly frosting in pastel pink and green, some with chopped pistachios atop, and others that had been dunked sideways in milk chocolate, the kind that melts into your hand before it reaches your mouth.
That cinnamon coffee seemed a rare, decadent treat, until we figured out how to brew it on our own, every day.
Every day, that is, until one day we just didn’t. We began brewing black coffee in the pot each morning, and there was my favorite coffee shop, where I could push the stroller just a few blocks to my afternoon latte. These too, were treasured rituals which were not intended to replace the beloved cinnamon coffee, but which played to a new rhythm for our days.
At Christmastime the year we were neighbors, she brought me a bag of coffee, the fancy, robust whole bean kind that would fill my kitchen with thoughts of her at each grind.
It was not long before she moved to the city, the same city where I had first been served cinnamon coffee.
We were connected by an affinity for cloth diapers, handmade soap, and vintage pink, among many other things, and our phone calls to one another became more frequent. I, too, moved away with my family, far away from the city and my friend. I once painted my little boys’ entire bedroom during a phone conversation with her.
On occasion, we would meet late at a town which fell between our two homes. We could catch up over coffee, and I would drive home, full of shortbread and the intangible gifts that my friend had given.
I once found some Italian cookies reminiscent of the days of our visits to Leona’s at the local grocery store. I bought some, and of course, I ate them, but they were just not the same.
She would tell me about her Catholic homeschooling adventures and trips to the ballet with her precious daughters, all three of whom were blessed with the angelic face of their mother, my friend. She listened intently as I described challenging behaviors that sometimes resulted in holes in walls, and summer weekends at the baseball field.
More time passed between the phone conversations, and it had been years since we had met for late night coffee. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional from either side; it was just that our lives had taken very different turns, and our spaces in time were filled with much else.
I’m not sure what made me think of her the other day; it could have been a million different things, one of so many that had woven so tight a friendship. I thought, but I could not remember her phone number, one that I had dialed sometimes several times in a day, for years running.
The boys were all home for Christmas this year. Two who had not seen Ethan in a year’s time remarked, on separate occasions, how different he seemed, and how much more peaceful the days felt. I’m not sure if his twenty-eighth medication is having a positive effect, or if there has been an undefinable shift in his lifelong struggle, but one can not deny that there has been change. We wished and hoped with all that our souls could hold, but we hadn’t seen it coming.
Though I take the cinnamon from the cabinet nearly every morning when someone inevitably requests cinnamon toast, this time, I thought of our cinnamon coffee from decades past. I thought of Leona’s, and I made cinnamon coffee. I wonder what took me so long.
I wonder if my friend would still meet me late one night. We could catch up, and we could try to remember what we never thought we would forget. If we look back and see how different we are now, that must make the beginning, the early days, worth so much more.
I guess if we just kept drinking the cinnamon coffee, day after day, we would not find the joy in it’s rediscovery.
And I do think I remember her phone number.