Why does coffee smell so good? I’m sure Grandma Jan would know the answer. Each year on October 12, the anniversary of her death, my family reconnects over a cup of coffee in her honor. It’s an event started by my cousin Rainah called the “Jan Lerew Black Coffee Social.” Rainah reminds us that “Jan loved coffee and she loved to talk.” Although my family is geographically separated, we take some time on that day to slow down, pour a cup of coffee, and connect with each other. I often spend the day with my mom in person. Then we share a selfie of our coffee drinking on the Facebook group created for the occasion. I love to see the favorite mugs that come out of the cupboard for the occasion.
Sometimes my mom and I go to a diner for our black coffee. Grandma Jan loved Sykes Diner in Kalispell, MT, an iconic diner that still offers a 10¢ cup of coffee. Her eyes sparkled with delight when she told me she had been going down to Sykes to listen to an “old time country band” every Friday evening. The banjo player was 95, an older man to her 80.
Everyone comes into our lives in physical form temporarily. The people we are surrounded by have lessons to teach us. We have lessons to teach them. Whether they have simply moved out of our lives or taken the bigger step out of their bodies, our learning continues even when we can no longer see them.
Grandma Jan has continued guiding me since she passed on. My roommate and I had been lamenting the fact that dirty dishes seem to be never ending. Grandma Jan had a poem for the occasion; washing dishes was her least favorite activity. I pulled out the book of poems I started compiling in her last months of life and shared this one:
In spring when robins sing so sweet,
And all the flowers bloom, I’m standing on my weary feet,
Surrounded by my gloom
But when the summer sun is hot,
And lazy clouds drift by, I’m thankful that I have a spot,
To look out at the sky, while
And when my master calls someday,
To say my time has come, I’ll answer, “Just a minute, Lord,
I’m very nearly done,” Doing Dishes!
April 27, 1965
I can hear her contagious laughter now. She might not have known it while she was alive, but she certainly teaches me now not to take myself so seriously. She teaches me to delight. She teaches me to savor a 10¢ cup of black coffee. She teaches me to share my creative gifts. She teaches me to be myself no matter what anyone else thinks. She teaches me to love the dandelions and the thistles in equal measure to the roses and the irises. She teaches me to #WatchLifeUnfold instead of getting impatient for the next thing. I often wonder which scene I'm playing out in the movie of my life.
Grandma Jan didn’t set out to be the anchor of the family and would probably deny the role, even from the grave. She didn't know she played a crucial part in shaping her children and grandchildren, even though we told her. Grandma Jan had no idea she meant so much to us and she makes me wonder what parts of myself I can’t see.
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Dare to be immortal.
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