Published: April 30, 2009

My grandmother is quite old-fashioned, you see. She still makes coffee with a percolator on the stove top. I’ve grown up on that sort of coffee, actually. I once asked for a bag of beans to be ground at one of those fancy coffee places in the city. The young female employee asked how finely I wanted the beans ground. “Well enough for a percolator,” I responded. At which moment she let out a sigh, rolled her lifeless eyes and said, “A what?” Just as I was

about to make a scene, the manager came over and reassured her that not many people still used those. “Although I do suppose there are still

a few floating around out there,” he

said as he motioned with his hands

towards the ceiling.

“Christ. I remember when a cup of coffee only cost you ten cents,” my uncle grumbles. He and I are waiting for that perking sound which carries with it a scent of liquid heaven that resonates on the hairs of our nostrils. He complains about inflation and tells me that red-heads are a dying race. My grandma laughs and begins to reflect on her younger days as one of the fiery few.

“Always getting into trouble, I was. The only Italian in the neighborhood with bright, red hair. I’d smoke loosies on my fire-escape but my mother never caught me. I was 13 then.”

I remember my grandma smoking when I was younger. To be honest, I don’t really recall her physical act of smoking as much as I do her cigarette case. It snapped shut at the top like an old lady’s change purse filled with dirty nickels and crumpled saint medallions. It was leather, limp from extreme wear. It had a pocket on the front for storing matches. It held a single pack of cigarettes. The rest were kept in cartons in the closet at the top of the stairs.

Snap open.

Snap close.


Oh, she had a terrible smoker’s cough. Real phlegmy. Thick. Yellow.

Now, my uncle is telling that story about my great grandfather’s brother who jumped out of a ten story window back in the ’20s. As the story goes, this young Italian immigrant was visiting his brother at a hospital in New York. He didn’t understand any English. The nurse was making her rounds while asking some lingering visitors to leave. He got so nervous that he’d be in trouble for having stayed late, he just flew right out of the window and died. He had been under the impression that the room was only on the second floor. The sick brother died a few days later. My uncle shakes his head and always ends with the same line:

“Burying two brothers in one week. Now that’s rough.”

I always knew there was a crazy streak hidden somewhere in the depths of this family’s past. I can’t help but feel a bit proud.

The coffee perks over.

Most of it has spilled out.

She makes a fresh pot.

I get the feeling that maybe this brother was just reaching for a cup of coffee from one of the percolators floating around out there in the sky.