Coffee shop talk
Published: July 25, 2012
It’s 10 a.m. on a weekday morning: My mom and I walk into our favorite coffee shop in my rural Oklahoma hometown. Doris, one of the co-proprietors, looks up and waves. She’s used to me showing up every few months when I’m in town. She usually greets me with a hug, but this morning she’s otherwise engaged, learning a new coffee-making technique via smartphone.
My hometown is a military town, so even though the setting is rural, the atmosphere is not insular. It’s a crossroads of small-town sameness and military mobility. The combination is especially evident at my favorite coffee shop, where the espresso is strong, the fudge is homemade and the walls are lined with military unit patches from around the world.
Doris’s business partner and husband, Don, is chatting with another customer at a table, but breaks off to say, “Look who’s back,” and ask me a few questions about where our family is stationed now and how long we’ll be in town.
Doris, using speaker phone to keep her hands free, is going through the steps of a pour-over brewing system with a colleague from another continent. While chatting, she pours some of the freshly made coffee into a cup for me, pats me on the back and moves on. I eavesdrop on her conversation about the “cedar aromas and satiny chocolate undertones” of the new brew while I’m sipping it.
“I’ve been in this business since 1975,” Doris is saying into the phone. “My husband started working with me when he retired from the military. We’re thinking about really retiring some day, but in the meantime I want to keep learning new things.”
Don comes over to talk to me and explains that the customer he was just sitting with is another Air Force veteran, who flew on the same kind of aircraft he did. The two men enjoy reminiscing together about their flying exploits.
“I shouldn’t keep you from your work,” he says, noticing my laptop.
But friendly conversation is part of the reason I like this place. Another reason is the mixture of local and military flavors.
“We have students from the base who come in here to study,” he says. “One day, my friend I were telling war stories about our Vietnam days. We looked over, and the students had all closed their books and were listening to us.”
Later, he said he asked them if they got any studying done. Their answer: “No, but we sure learned something. We didn’t know airplanes could do all that.”
More customers come and go — some new, some regulars — discussing politics, new city playgrounds and summer vacations. An old friend of my dad’s comes in and sees me. “I think about your dad every time I drive by the house where you used to live,” he tells me. Me too, I say.
I guess memories evoked by a visit home are mixed. I’ll take the bitter with the sweet, like black coffee and chocolate biscotti.
On another day, I stop by the shop for an afternoon latte with my son. A young man wearing a flight suit is at the next table. One of his patches is a Swedish flag, and his nametag requires some translation. He says it a few times over for the new friends at his table, who practice the pronunciation.
He’s in a flight training program alongside American pilots at the Air Force base here. Doris soon comes over and connects his table and ours in conversation about our common experiences of living and traveling in Europe.
Talk soon turns to the shop’s collection of military patches, donated by regulars and visitors over the years, in exchange for a free beverage. The young pilot points out a patch that depicts his aircraft. My son spots a familiar one from Third Air Force in Ramstein, Germany.
My hometown — like many small military towns — might be considered a country backwater, but every town deserves a closer look. Even places that seem to be in the middle of nowhere might have connections to almost anywhere -- and more importantly, anyone.
(Many thanks to Doris and Don Jouett of Confectionately Yours, Altus, Oklahoma.)