My grandfather died, as best I recall, in late 1997 or 1998. The winter before I went to boot camp in 1998, anyway. He died in the hospital in Paducah, Kentucky. Never a big man, he nonetheless looked tiny and childlike in his hospital bed. True to himself to the end, he waited until no one in the family was around before letting go.
Every fall, I am overcome with memories of my grandfather. Of sitting on the front porch with him while he whittled. Of his lined plaid flannel jacket, his bright blue eyes, of him sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee from a stovetop percolator which he kept cooking for half the day, each cup more and more like caffeinated sludge.
This year it’s hit me hard yet again, grief and yearning for a man who died nearly 20 years ago. I already have a lined plaid flannel jacket. Brown Drop McCoy Pottery coffee mugs were a simple click and $20 away on Etsy. And then a Twitter friend offered me a stovetop percolator, and now I’m sitting here typing this blog post with an excellent case of the caffeine jitters.
I wish I could embed the smell of percolating coffee along with the video and the gentle sound of it, promising that no matter how much gabapentin I take, I will never again sleep the day away. In fact, I may not sleep all night, either, which is fine because honestly imagine how much I can do if I never sleep again!
Here in the south, memory is a tangible thing. Sometime’s that’s terrible, as when southerners reverence the antebellum and Confederate south, ignoring the horrors of slavery that underpinned them. Other times, it’s just something we don’t have a word for in English. In Welsh it’s hiraeth, the longing for a home in the past, a home that maybe never was, a desperate wish for the idealized world of our memories. My grandfather wasn’t perfect, but he smelled of coffee and cheap cigarettes and cedar wood and he loved me. His hands, always seeming disproportionately large, were strong and steady and could show a curious young girl how to whittle, how to dig worms for fishing and put them on a hook.
So now my house smells of strong, strong coffee that’s parked on the stove (I’ll maybe add more water later, maybe just declare the pot finished when the coffee tries to grab my tonsils) and, I admit, the cheap cigarettes I smoke, and I miss my granddaddy again. And again, and again. But with my brown mug and my strong coffee, I’m just a little bit closer to him today than I was yesterday, and that’s comforting indeed.