“But Daaddddd, I don’t like coffee!” “Of course you don’t, you’re twelve. Just trust me.” When I was in middle school, my parents got divorced, and my dad moved into a
dormitory so he could finish his PhD. My little brother and sister and I started spending every other weekend there. All four of us would sleep in the same bed, my head next to my sister’s feet so that we wouldn’t be able to keep everyone else up all night talking. During the day, my dad had to figure out what to do with us. With three kids ranging from ages 6-12 and a grad students’ stipend, there weren’t a lot of options. He had to get creative. Sometimes we’d walk across the Queensboro Bridge and hit up P.S. 9 on its free days. Sometimes he’d take us into cold storage at his lab and explain as many specimens as he could before we started shivering. Sometimes we’d walk the endless stretches of city block, poking into stores and listening to lectures on virology and military history in ex change for permission to ramble on about Pokemon. On a poking day, he took us to a coffee shop with giant open sacks of coffee beans on the floor. Each sack had a laminated sign that explained what variety was inside: Costa Rica, Arabica, Mocha Java. All the beans were glossy and round with black lining on the underside that resembled the eye makeup I’d been teaching myself to apply. “You might not like the taste of coffee, but I’ll bet you like the smell,” my dad said. “Go and smell the different beans and compare them.” At first, the smell was an amorphous mass of earthen warmth, but the longer I kept at it, the more I started to notice the individual notes. Some varieties smelled like cinnamon, others were malty, and I picked up the scent of chocolate more than once. One variety even smelled like flowers, which wasn’t at all what I’d expected. “Have you picked a favorite?” Dad asked. My siblings and I nodded and hummed that we had. I had three or four different favorites swirling around in my head, but I figured that counted. “Okay, take one bean from your favorite kind, and eat it.” My dad was the kind of guy who would eat cow brains and tripe all day if nobody stopped him, so I didn’t always trust what he told me to put in my mouth. The smell might have been enticing, but I’d drunk coffee before and I knew it was bitter and horri ble. Besides, I didn’t see any signs that encouraged sampling, and I didn’t want to get in trouble. My six-year-old brother had no such reservations - he grabbed a bean and popped it in his mouth before I could say a word. As the oldest, I had to be at least that brave, so I plucked a bean from the Mocha Java bag and ate it. The taste was halfway between the acridity of a cup of coffee and the sweetness of a piece of chocolate. It had the crunch of a corn nut, and the aftertaste was almost exactly like the scent I’d been loving just moments before. It was delicious. My dad shot me a brief smile before stopping my brother from sticking his entire fist into a sack of beans. I’m sure that the store owners didn’t appreciate us sampling the merchandise, but this remains one of my favorite childhood memories. My dad was probably just trying to keep us busy during the day, but he taught me two things that stuck with me for the rest of my life. The first was that it didn’t matter if I had money, there would always be ways to engage my senses and improve my experience of the world. The other was that even if I thought I didn’t like something, there might be alternate ways to experience it that could expand my perspective. These days, I like tea more than I like coffee, but when I do have coffee, I often find my self snacking on the beans.
By: Anna Lindwasser of Brooklyn, NY. At the time this story took place, I split my time between my mom’s apartment in a Manhattan neighborhood called Inwood, and my
father’s dormitory on the Upper East Side. Our family is a mix of cultures: Jewish,
Spanish, Panamanian, Italian, and Irish, among others. We’ve been in New York City for generations.
Anna's father saw opportunities to learn and teach everywhere, and he did so in an expansive way...to include the senses and grow curiousity...with the ultimate goal having nothing to do with being right or wrong.
Thank you Anna, it was a true pleasure and inspiration to read your story and meet you and your father.