I have measured my life in coffee spoons.
- T.S. Eliot
Appropriately, I have a coffee mug that bears this quote. A very dear friend with whom I have shared countless gallons of coffee sent it to me a few months ago. I am drinking my coffee out of it as I type this. I'm typing this while taking a break from packing up non-essential kitchen things.
As we get ready to move our lives to a new location, I have had the honor of culling our belongings and carefully packing them up. I have three boxes of coffee mugs. I have culled them and culled them, but there aren't any with which I can part.
It started on our honeymoon, fourteen years ago this week. We took a road trip from Texas, through the southeast up to Washington D.C. and then back down again by a different route. We were young, newly married and between jobs. We stayed in cheap motels, scouted local attractions, took detours on small state highways, got lost, reveled in each other and the freedom of a whole lifetime stretching out before us. We stopped in Hope, Arkansas and bought a mug with the Presidential seal and Bill Clinton's autograph in gold. We bought it at a gas station and amused ourselves endlessly with the joke about Hillary's ex-boyfriend pumping gas. Our vagabond honeymoon road trip also brought us a Sun Studios mug from Graceland and one with the American Rover, a tall ship from Norfolk, Virginia.
Today I packed up New Mexico, acquired on a golden trip to Santa Fe for my thirty-first birthday. The Big Texan Steakhouse from Amarillo, Texas. We took a long, meandering trip through Oklahoma, West Texas and New Mexico to avoid the storms of Hurricane Rita, packed into the car with our cat, our computer and our baby girl with no place in particular to go except away. What better to do than to go to the Big Texan? A gaudy monstrosity of a tourist trap where if you can eat what amounts to an entire pot roast in ninety minutes or less, it's free. That sums up both Texas and America right there: the land where there are restaurants in which you can eat an obscene amount of steak on a stage for all to see while cowgirls refill your sweet tea. In keeping with our obsession with obscene American things, we have a mug from the world's largest McDonald's that spans the interstate somewhere in the middle of Oklahoma.
We have the Detroit Institute of Arts from a trip we made on our first anniversary to visit dear friends in Michigan. It was on that trip that we made our first decision to move across country, from Texas to Michigan, for no other reason than it seemed like a good idea. We have a Canadian one hundred dollar bill mug to mark another anniversary trip to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We have not one, but two "Starry Night" mugs, given to me as gifts by people who know my love of both Vincent Van Gogh and coffee.
We have a Beijing Starbucks mug, a Paris Starbucks mug. A beautiful, bright red "Seattle's Best" mug - sent to us as a Christmas gift from Texas the first year we lived in Seattle. That confounds me and makes me laugh to this day. Seattle's Best coffee around here is called "Seattle's Beast". It is the Folgers of local coffee. From it, I drink the delightful irony of having been sent a tourist mug from my own city from 2000 miles away. We have one with a picture of an old timey automobile and my son's name in Gothic font across the bottom. A gift from an aunt when our Hooligan was born. He accidentally shares a name with his great grandfather and the mug used to belong to him.
I have an emerald green glass mug that is etched with a labyrinth from New Harmony, Indiana. I attended a conference there in college, my first time ever to spend the night away from my husband. The mug is beautiful and holds such loneliness and excitement together in its labyrinth. We have a Las Vegas mug from a trip to see dear friends in L.A. We got a cheap flight to Vegas, spent the night and drove across the desert. I drink from this mug and remember being so newly pregnant and morning sick, bewildered by the clanging and the flashing lights of the casinos and running, retracing Hunter S. Thompson's steps, looking for the Rat Pack and the cast of Ocean's Eleven and finding only sunburned and drunk tourists from Ohio.
Our short stint of attempting to assimilate in Huntsville, Texas is commemorated with a mug of Big Sam and bears the inscription: "The world's tallest statue of an American hero." They are not lying, either. A 200 foot statue of Sam Houston stands by the freeway and glows white at night, scaring the tar out of unsuspecting travelers. This mug tastes of miscarriage, WalMart, doubt and death row. I keep it to remind me where we've been, what we've escaped and what we can do if we're together.
Today my jBird and I carefully wrapped all these mugs along with dozens of others and packed them away to bring to our new house. On top, I placed my latest acquisition: a mug I got at the drugstore a few months ago with the name of the neighborhood that we are leaving on it. This neighborhood that has been so good to us for the last six years with its Norwegian festivals and salmon runs and drawbridges. I will miss some things about living in this neighborhood, but I'm ready to move on, to see what lies ahead. I'll have my mug to remind me of these days that smell of salt water and roses; of watching my baby girl start to school, of bringing my baby boy two blocks home from the hospital and arguing with the nurses who didn't want me to walk home; of raspberries and pears in the back yard and the progression of tricycles to training wheels to two wheels for both of my monkeys on the front sidewalk. This mug holds heartache, fear, and sadness like I have never known. It also holds silliness and success; pure, quiet contentment and deep satisfaction. It holds triumph, ambition, growth and many, many milestones.
I take my coffee black and strong, so there is no need for spoons. But yes, Mr. Eliot: I can measure my life in coffee mugs.