I was a young kid in the early 1960s, living in a small town. When Minnesota winters can be sub zero and Jack Frost leaves his artwork on every window, it’s better to stay inside. Winter can seem like a long season when one is indoors for most of it. For the housewife, there was plenty to do with the cleaning and laundry. If the lady of the house wanted a break, she could watch a soap opera or telephone a friend, but by spring, she was ready to get out of her abode and catch up with the other cooped up ladies. When winter was over it was much easier to go back and forth to the neighbors. No need to bundle up and step over snow banks.
Most women were full-time housewives in those days. Not many were out in the workforce. My mom worked a few afternoons and Friday nights at my dad’s hardware store. She was home mornings and made good use of that time. Coffee with a neighbor was as important to her as the housework.
When the first sunny warm spring mornings appeared, my mom opened the windows. The unlocked screen door was kept closed but let in plenty of fresh air. With the opening of the windows and doors came the active season of morning coffee visits with a neighborhood friend. Each spring these ladies were like birds out of their cage. There was so much to catch up on, in addition, the stroll over was pleasant too. Warm sun and birds singing are just as wonderful as the cup of coffee with a friend. It didn’t happen every morning, but most weekdays the birds would see the criss-crossing bathrobed women on their morning mission. I was still a preschooler at my mom’s hip. These early morning coffee times are some of my first memories.
This was before social media and cell phones. Keeping in touch was much different than today’s instant connection, and instant coffee. Most women are working now too. Ways have changed how we keep in touch, but we still have the need and desire to connect.
Not every housewife did this. But those that did had their select stops to make. The ladies my mom would ‘coffee’ with, had different neighbors in the direction away from our house that they visited with. It was a social network. And through that web, you could find out what’s happening two or more streets over where you didn’t go for coffee before you combed your hair.
After their husbands left for work, the wives, usually still in PJs, bathrobe, and curlers, walked next door or a few doors down. They just left. When in your bathrobe you carry no purse. You are traveling just a few yards, literally. Nobody locked their doors when they left home. It was all spontaneous and casual.
They may or may not knock. Our neighbor, Violet, petite and cute, always with a smile on her face, would let herself in as her loud high voice called out to my mom, “yoohooooo“. She and my mom would sit at the kitchen table, both in their robes. They enjoyed one cup of coffee in a real coffee cup with a matching saucer. No big mugs or throwaway cups. My mom made perked coffee on the stovetop. Maybe a cookie or toast was offered. They talked about the weather, their gardens, kids, why the cops were whizzing through town last night and what they’re making for supper. I would go in the next room and play with my toys. Twenty minutes later, the visit was over. Violet was in and out quickly because she may have another house to stop in.
When my mom and I would go to Norma’s, she’d offer my mom coffee and me some toast while she did the dishes or ironed. They lived upstairs in a duplex that reminded me of The Honeymooners apartment. I stood around looking at her baby, or went into the living room to look at the framed photos of family members on the coffee table. Norma was a soft spoken person and my mom did most of the talking. When Norma moved, they kept in touch. She would drive over to see my mom from time to time for many years.
The person my mom had the most coffee visits with was her good friend, Dolores. Our backyards shared a border where a tucked away, picturesque lilac grove grew on a small hill. Several old bushes bloomed each spring bursting with a mix of deep purple, soft purple, and white lilacs. There was just enough room to walk through the center of the bushes for adults. Us kids went through the lilacs like nothing, but our moms had to duck a little to make it. The sweet smell was heavy. This was the way my mom and Dolores would go back and forth for decades. They had morning coffee until Dolores started working, then they switched to afternoon coffee, and baking pies together on Saturdays. These friends were going through the lilacs for other reasons too, to borrow an egg or bring over extra rhubarb. It didn’t take too many years for the well-worn path to become permanent hard dirt and grass didn’t stand a chance to grow. My mom wore her bathrobe all morning long those days, but I don’t remember Dolores coming over wearing hers. She was always put together and reminded me if Sophia Loren had been a regular person living in our blue collar part of town. Dolores might stay for two cups of coffee. She and my mom talked about everything under the sun. Her kids were my age so I had playmates during those visits.
When I started school, my guess is my mom continued to morning coffee with her neighbors until one by one they got jobs or moved or eventually died. The tradition evaporated. Things change.
A few summers ago when my mom was in a nursing home and my sisters and I were preparing to sell the home place, I remember walking through the now shriveled up lilac grove over to Dolores’ with some rag rugs we thought she might like to have. I didn’t have to walk through the lilacs. I could have walked around them, but I was being pulled that direction. I had to squeeze through the overgrown unkempt branches but I was set on going through the grove. It was for my mom and Dolores because this is the way they would have gone. The path was barely there. To my trained eye, I could see it though. And even more, I could see my mom’s feet from years back, making one of the many warm weather jaunts over to Dolores’. The dirt path may be overgrown now, but in my mind, I still see the neighbor friends going back and forth through the lilacs needing to get in as many cups of coffee as they could before the silent winter sets in.