… on coffee cups

The other night we had a party. It was an all out hum dinger of a party too, and I hereby apologize to all of my neighbors for the beat of the dance music coupled with the moans and screams and rattling chains (it was a Halloween party. What’d you think it was? Need I remind you that this is a “rated-E-for-everyone’ publication?).

Anyway, at the end of the party we had a dozen or so folks who accepted our invitation to join us in the kitchen and have some nice conversation with background music (at a much lower decibel level than it had been earlier). Some folks sipped ice water and some sipped champagne and some accepted our offer for tea or coffee.

I slipped into the pantry to gather the appropriate materials – tea bags, cream, sugar, and – of course – the coffee cups. I opened the ‘cup cupboard’ (repetitive term? I hope my friend Marge-Kimpton-Former-English-Teacher isn’t reading this). Anyway, I opened it wide and my coffee cups were all there – in their glory and standing straight and tall, chips and imperfections turned to the back of the cupboard – anxiously awaiting my choices (yes, its stressful for me. I’m a mug pleaser).

Now, I believe we all have our coffee cup cabinets. You know what I mean – the place in your kitchen or pantry where you store the cups, mugs, and perhaps the occasional shot glass from your trip to Alcatraz. Mine is probably not much different from yours. I have the quite nice set of cups that match my dinner dishes (or at least match each other), and then I have ALL THE REST.

Let me be perfectly clear on how pitiful my ALL THE REST collection of coffee cups and mugs has become. I moved to this house in 2004. Moving is supposed to be – beyond a marriage-testing stress inducer – an opportunity for a cathartic experience. When you move to a new place after many years, you have the opportunity to PURGE. And in that, I mean you have the opportunity to take all the stuff you haven’t used in, say, ten years and either give it, sell it, or toss it away. And we did that. We went through TWO large dumpsters and innumerable trips to the church, Goodwill bins, and the transfer station. Only, for some reason, my cup cabinet escaped my purging fury. And I know why.

I will not give up my mug with the picture of the Labrador Retriever sniffing another lab’s hindquarters with the word “Greetings” under the image.

I cannot give up my mug (which I use year round) with six Santas in a police line-up and a policeman standing on the other side of the glass with the victim, instructing the Santas with, “Okay, now all of you shake your bellies like bowls full of jelly.”

My niece, Meighan ran the Warrior Dash just before her wedding and you couldn’t pry the mug featuring her leaping flames in a bridal veil from my cold, dead hand (okay, technically you could…barring extensive rigor setting in…just go for the drama of my determination). My Teton Ridge Range mug takes me back to Idaho and my memories of staying at a ranch on the back side of the Grand Teton range, in the middle of nowhere. The beautiful ranch house sat on thousands of acres (not lying) and had only six rooms, and the staff didn’t stay the night at the house so you were on your own until early morning when the smells of sausage, coffee, and freshly baked yummy things lured you out of bed. But the favorite memory of that my Teton Ridge mug brings back is that of the couple from New York City. They’d just gone through the big black out of 2002 and were a little on edge, but he kicker was that they’d never been outside the city, so every single hoot, howl, or crunch of leaves sent the young woman flying into her equally uncertain husband’s arms. They were petrified that a bear would be able to scale the building and get into their room. They worried out loud that there might be biting fish in the rivers as they learned to cast their lures for fly-fishing. When we saw our first moose together, it stood so still in the meadow that the woman proclaimed it as being a “cut out” and even asked the staff if it was. We spent five days in that paradise and laughed often – and unabashedly out loud – the entire time. And every single time I see that mug, I remember all of it.

There are so many more. John brought home a mug from an energy conference with a corporate logo on it. No catchy phrase. No whizzy graphic or great quote. But it’s a mug that just “feels right” in my hand. We have a huge mug with the logo of Assumption College on it that is so big that your coffee gets cold really fast, but it’s an excellent hot cocoa mug for the kids who don’t want their “hot beverage” all that hot. John and I know which mugs will make people chuckle, which ones will keep their drinks hot the longest, and which ones have the handles that will let you slip two, three, or even four fingers into their openings. Like comfort foot, the mugs in the “ALL THE REST” category make us feel like we’re home. And you can’t purge that stuff.

The one last thing that occurred to me as I reached into the cupboard the other night was that I use my most expensive, most carefully chosen, best-matched cups the least. Yep, they have beautiful shapes and colors and they match those dinner plates perfectly, but whether on a Sunday morning with just the two of us, or with a gathering of friends and family, it’s the “ALL THE REST” cups and mugs that are coming out. They tell our stories, and even sometimes hold our secrets, and who else would you share such things with if not your dear friends and family?

Thanks for readin’.

*This post is based on an article I wrote way back in 2005. It was published then in Dunstable Commons, a local on-line publication created by Kathy Icenogle (who was my first editor (and was very generous in letting me write as I speak (which is rather hop scotchy (with many, many nested parentheses))).