Sunday, November 13, 2005

Red and Black Plaided Thermos

For those in Miami, Texas, Southern California, or anywhere that has only two seasons: Summer season and Rainy Season, I envy you. Here in Chicago it's Autumn, it's cold, and boy is it going to get colder.

Bueno, one of the first things I did when I got back from the Middle East (about a week ago), was fish out my sweaters, my coats and my scarf, and under all of that I found my red and black plaided thermos, which I've had for years without using. It was dirty as sin, with a sinky old Colada still in it from God knows when. And so I thought I'd soak it soapy water, and get it ready for when the snow falls. Now, there was something about the thermos that brought a certain level of comfort, though it was something that I couldn't quite put my finger on until today.

I was doing some blog reading and came upon Babalublog's "The Sound of Trouble." Val's nostalgic look at this kind of thermos and its misadventures in school. What struck me about his post was the section describing how his old man would open that top up and steam would still rise along with that friendly aroma of home made cafe cubano.

And then it hit me. It was out of a similar thermos that I had my first taste of that potent Cuban elixir.

As most Cuban/Cuban-American children, we all grew up drinking one of the following two drinks: Cafe Con Leche or Leche Con Vanilla y Azucar. Cafe Cubano by itself usually came about when the kid became a teenager, especially when this teenager was cramming up late for HS exams. I, however, remember first trying it when I was about 4 years old.

Mi abuela was baby sitting me at that time and mi abuelo just got home from work and had his thermos in his hand. Almost religiously he grabbed an ash tray, the remote control and sat down at a table. He turned on the TV, lit a cigarette and proceded to open the thermos. Being the curious little kid that I was, I got on the chair in front of him and stared at the plaided thermos. I clearly remember the cap opening and the smell of the strongest Cuban Coffee ever made over-powering the cigarette smoke and weakening my breath to the point where I got a little dizzy.

I must have made a face because mi abuelo looked at me and chuckled. He proceded to pour the dregs of that thick conconcture into his creamy white thermos cup and looking at me with a curious smirk he offered me a sip. I took more than a sip and I remember my eyes opening wide as the hot explosion of coffee and sugar suspended in only a few drops of water pull at the muscles around my neck -I haven't met anyone who can make Cafe Cubano as strong as mi abuelo can. At that moment mi abuela came in, saw me drinking it, and scolded abuelo saying something like: "Coño, ¿por que hiciste eso? el niño tiene que dormir."

That night, after my parents picked me up, I didn't sleep, and the next day my mom went after him with a loud ¡COÑO!. I wouldn't try Cafe Cubano straight for another 8 yrs, when I was up all night doing a last minute Science project for school. I forgot about that incident until today, and I now know that the comfort that I felt surrounding the thermos was that of family -as imperfect as it may be.

Much has to be said about culture, comfort and familiarity. I know that being in Chicago, where Cuban's are scarce, people look at mi Cafetera and mi tacita as an oddity, or me trying to be special or a coffee snob. And what many don't realize is that it's these little things, like a cafecito, or a pin-pan-pun, or a Red and Black Plaided Thermos, are hooks that connect us to our families and our people.

My Red and Black Plaided Thermos is still full of hot soapy water, but when it's cleaned I will not only drink the warm Cafe Cubano during work, but drink the warm memories of a loving family that is miles upon miles away from me.

1 comment:

The Universal Spectator said...

Beautiful. My grandfather He wasn't a big drinker, although he drank a "medicinal" shot of Chivas every now and then. The only time I saw him drink beer -- never in the can or bottle -- was when my grandmother made her arroz con pollo a la chorrera, a culinary masterpiece that, thankfully, was passed on to my mom. He thoroughly enjoyed that glass of Ballantines or Miller when the arroz con pollo was on the table. Memories are grand, eh?