Thursday, July 5, 2012

Measuring Life in Mugs

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.


  1. I loved this post! I too have too many coffee mugs. Tara is always trying to get rid of them when I'm not looking (sometimes she succeeds!) We've narrowed it down to the coffee mugs with larger than normal capacity. Those are the ones we keep now. Along with any hand made treasures from our kids!

  2. Lovely post! I have similar collections and love taking trips down memory lane when moving. It's what makes moving bearable.

  3. This makes me want to start collecting coffee mugs.

  4. Im with Margi - this makes me want to collect mugs and a) I don't drink coffee and b) I don't have any collections of anything (if you don't count books and finished works of art (?) gathering dust under the bed).

  5. I've been gone for a bit - - you bought a house??!

  6. Mike already made my comment, so I will just say that I wish you many more years of mug collections and happiness in your new home, which, hopefully, has ample cabinet space.

  7. So many things about this. You're the only person I know who could take a box of mugs and turn them into a moving and humorous life story.
    "This mug tastes of miscarriage, WalMart, doubt and death row." This line is sad, yet peaks my curiosity. Death row?
    Hearing that you walked home from the hospital with your son, I just nodded my head. That seems so 'you'.
    Thanks for sharing- again.

  8. I have never wanted so much to sit and have a cup of coffee with someone as much as I do right now, with you. I love the stories of things. I love this post.

  9. Perhaps you would like our three boxes of coffee mugs, mostly emblazoned with road race logos. We packed them up when we started drinking out of jelly jars. I would rather have an assortment of mismatched tableware that tell a story than all the silver at Reed & Barton. Great post.

  10. So sweet, this brought me to tears. I'm drinking coffee this week from the one mug I didn't pack--my Huntington Beach mug that I bought on my first trip there, with my husband. He was showing me where he grew up.

  11. I'm glad you could take a break from the packing to tell your tale of mugs. ( I've got that same thousand dollar mug from niagara falls - a prize from my bridal shower. )

  12. Wonderful isn't it? How things are oftentimes not just things...

  13. Wow! What great stories for so many mugs!

    Congrats on the anniversary!

  14. How wonderful that you can trace the memories of your life through mugs. Happy or painful memories are all important. You manage to wrap it all up in a wonderfully emotional post that takes us all along for the ride.

    I don't drink that much coffee and I don't really collect anything, except books and notebooks. I do however have one mug that I bought in Germany on my first trip abroad without my Mum, I still use it everyday. Your post brought back all those happy memories...Thanks

    PS I love the sound of your labyrinth mug ;-)

  15. I wiLL soon be bringing some of my father's coffee mugs from his house for the veRy last time ....

    1. I drive by the Big Texan about 20 to 50 times a year, it is about 50 miles away. I think the last time I was actuaLLy in the restaurant was during my college days or veRy early in my marriage. That particular restaurant has one too many (veRy) bad memory for me, and it has nothing to do with the food.

  16. I'm loving how you sharing pieces of your life through the medium of mugs touches on so many pieces of other people's lives too. It's like we come to the hub of your blog and share with you, share with each other, and we all go away feeling warm in our bellies from the black strength of your words. Yum. Thank you.


Thanks for reading and taking the time to say hello!