The public held a vote and decided that despite my lack of ability to do pretty much anything for myself, I’m all grown. It really came as a shock, but now I’m in the aftermath and have been trying to manufacture a life. I started with a to do list that had but two items scribbled on it: “figure shit out” and “buy a rug.” I lost the list almost immediately so thankfully it was easy to remember. I purchased a rug that I tell people fits my “design aesthetic,” something that was added to the to do list post its disappearance under “to find.” But the next part proved to require a little more legwork. I figured that my home was a good place to start. I’ve been living on my own for almost a decade but I recently moved into a new apartment, with my partner, and figured that deciding what I wanted my home to feel like might be a good place to start trying to adapt to the façade of adulthood.
How to get on with the starting though? Well, I knew where to look: the house I grew up in. “No place like home” extended past me and through everyone my parents ever met. Saturday afternoons at my parents’ house were the main attraction of our Staten Island neighborhood. My parents are observant Jews and the Willowbrook neighborhood I spent most of my formative years in was made up of ticky tacky boxes filled with people we knew from the school, the kosher grocery store, synagogue, or from wherever it was we were before there. Because being observant meant we didn’t drive on the Sabbath, for kids Saturday afternoons were usually spent at “group,” which were a little too formal for my liking. There was a detailed rotating schedule of participating houses, usually everyone from your age group that lived in the area. Wach week we’d show up at someone’s doorstep to play for a few hours and eat some snacks. The adults, meanwhile, did a less-formalized re-enactment. As we got older, the schedules became a little less strict and eventually disappeared. It’s at that point that most of the children in the neighborhood pulled up a chair to join their parents – at my folks’ table for my mom’s iced coffee.
At around two or three on Saturday afternoons, the knocks on the door started. One-by-one, or usually more like three-by-three, they’d stroll up the stairs and park themselves wherever they felt comfortable. “Who wants iced coffee?” my mother would call standing behind her chair at the head of the dining room table, knowing the reason they were all there but posing it as a question regardless. Minutes later she’d return with a giant glass of coffee, some topped with a swirl of whipped cream, depending on her guests preferences.
If you ask a friend of mine she’ll tell you about the care packages of coffee sent to her dorm and detailed instructions taped above her bed. If you ask another, or a few I haven’t spoken to in years, they’ll say “Helene’s iced coffee,” and smile.
The coffee is simple, no fancy beans or methods. In fact, it’s instant. A little fat free half and half, some sugar or sweetener. I’ve never been able to figure out why it’s so special. Why friends would come to my house, uninvited, not to hang out with me, but to sit at my mother’s table with a cup of coffee. I make the same coffee for myself every single morning. It’s the first thing I do before I start my day, and fuels me forward. But it wasn’t until I realized that I couldn’t spin those simple ingredients into the perfect mix that would taste like home that I realized, maybe it’s not the coffee?
Okay, it is the coffee. The coffee tastes acidic yet sweet and smooth, almost as if you dropped a scoop of vanilla ice cream into your glass. It’s delicious. But how can it be that a few simple ingredients became the staple of a neighborhood? Because of my parents. Their table wasn’t just a place to grab a good coffee it was a place to feel comfortable. There was a revolving door on the house for anyone who needed it. As a young adult, my friends stopped by to talk my mother about boys. Kids whose parents had left them for a weekend would come by for coffee, sure, but also for lunch and dinner and maybe a nap. If I have to be an adult, which again apparently I do, the home I want is that. It’s about Helen’s iced coffee.