My grandfather has run out of coffee. Every morning, he mixes a blend of Colombian dark roast from Costco that he pours into a thermos to keep hot for the rest of the day. No milk, no cream and no sugar. Just coffee. He buys the grounds in three pound cans that will last him a few months, but right now he barely has enough for two more days.
On March 17, the retirement community where he and my grandmother live locked its gates in response to the coronavirus pandemic. They cannot leave, and if they do they will not be allowed back in. Packages cannot be delivered and meals usually eaten in community spaces are dropped at residents’ doorsteps. Staff will take care of the grocery shopping. “They’ll shop tomorrow, or tomorrow afternoon,” my grandfather — I call him Granny — recently told me over the phone. “We turn our order in and I included coffee on that but it won’t be the kind of coffee that I like.” He paused. “But it’s coffee.”
“Granny, how many years have you been drinking coffee?” I asked. He said it’s been since he was drafted to the Army. That was 1956 — a lot of cups of coffee ago.
But it wasn’t until the ՚90s, when he started visiting my parents across the country in California that Granny discovered dark roast. “People here just drink weak coffee. It’s all Folgers coffee.” My grandparents live in North Carolina. They both speak with graceful southern accents, and Granny’s voice hugs the “o” in “Folgers” as he describes his distaste for the brand: “I’d rather just have a glass of orange juice if I’m going to have weak coffee.”
Regardless, my grandparents aren’t mad at the potential strong coffee shortage. They feel safe in their retirement community and respect the actions taken to protect them and their friends. The delivered meals and canceled game nights feel appropriate for the challenges at hand — both my grandparents are over 80 and neither of them can remember anything similar to COVID-19 in their lifetimes.
This is what I had called them about. I can’t remember anything similar to coronavirus, but I also can’t remember 9/11, and I only have snippets of the 2008 economic crash. My database is limited — I thought Granny and Grandma might have something else to say.
“The polio epidemic.” My grandparents jinxed each other, overlapping their words to answer my question. I figured they’d say that — Grandma recently told me a story about waving to her friend across the street during quarantine, unable to go out and play. The corner of my mouth had tipped into a smile; just last week I had also waved to a friend from across the street as we tried to maintain our friendship amid social distancing guidelines. Eighty years of distance between the same distancing behavior.
Granny remembered seeing people hooked up to iron lungs. “We all remember that,” he said, “but we haven’t seen anything since then.”
Truly nothing since then?
“During World War II,” Grandma said. Granny agreed. He remembered driving across towns to try and find sugar. Grandma remembered gasoline rationing, too. “But there was not a general sense of unease around us,” said Grandma. “The war was taking place somewhere else.” COVID might not be a war, but it’s for sure happening on American soil.
My grandparents remember other things, too. They remembered sending my dad and uncle to newly desegregated schools and telling neighbors they wouldn’t take part in protests against it. They saw Lee Harvey Oswald’s death on TV after grappling with the JFK assasination and watched the twin towers fall a few decades later. These were moments of solidified conversation, Granny said, when the world could only seem to talk about one thing. But nothing seemed as universal, as long-lasting and as unique as COVID-19.
My grandmother doesn’t share Granny’s affinity for dark roasted coffee beans, but she’s eager to support. Before inputting their grocery order, she looked up at the website of the store where the staff would do their shopping to see if they had a dark roast brand. When she found something that might match her husband’s taste the best, she tried to print a picture of the logo. Sadly, her printer is out of ink. Instead, she included a description: it’s a red bag with letters on it.
“It’ll be interesting to see what they bring tomorrow,” Granny said. I chuckled. Coffee or otherwise, it’ll be interesting to see what tomorrow brings — it seems we’re all in for something completely new.