Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Morning Coffee

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It was a ritual, and one we had observed for about 15 years now – since I was 18 or 20 years old.

Phone call, either from Dad to me, or from me to Dad.

“Would you like to get coffee?”

“Sure! Where? What time?”

“’The Kettle’?” This was not really a question, but a ritual. We always went to the same place. The Kettle was a restaurant specializing in breakfast and it was owned by two brothers who had played for the University of Oklahoma’s football team during a national championship season.

The football brothers parlayed their celebrity into grits, home fries, eggs however you wanted them (with lots of Tabasco sauce if you so desired), fresh biscuits and white peppered gravy. Yum. Granted, it wasn’t very good for you. The saturated fat level must have been enough to launch a probe to Jupiter. I loved it.

It was a popular place for early-morning breakfast, no matter how early your morning might be. On weekends, early was pre-dawn as people piled in after a night of heavy dancing and carousing at the university’s numerous sororities and fraternities.

I preferred to eat breakfast after daybreak.

So, Dad and I comprised more of the mid-morning fold. We showed up, ordered coffee, and proceeded to chat about business, the world’s affairs, family matters, and finally, the exploration projects that Dad found most promising.

Most of the time this meant discussing oil and gas operations: mapping, leasing, promoting, drilling, completing, producing, negotiating, offsetting.

Dad drank his coffee black.

I drank mine lightly sweetened with artificial sweetener.

Later, I started using cream, no sweetener. Black coffee seemed somehow too harsh, even though I realized it was better to forego the calories.

It was our ritual, even on holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day – the other restaurants might be closed, but The Kettle’s neon blazed on through the night and the wee hours of the morning when one felt at one’s most vulnerable.

Our holiday conversation never varied:

“The holidays really get me down.”

“Me, too.”

“It’s always so much pressure. What a let-down. So commercial, and it’s just so empty.”

Then, we’d leave and drive around looking at the way people decorated their houses. Somehow the night didn’t seem so dark, the cold so hollow, the loneliness so needle-sharp.

“Everyone needs a sounding board,” Dad always said.

Yes, he was right in many ways – ways I’m still not really able to articulate. The Kettle was no Hemingwayesque “clean, well-lighted place.” It was well-lighted, but it was not filled with wordless, manly angst. It was much too college-town for such self-restraint. Nor would I call it a Hopperesque “Night Hawks” sort of place, either. This was not urban. Elm trees shaded the parking lot, and scissor-tail flycatchers sat on telephone wires overlooking old cotton fields converted to soccer, quarter-acre lots, and apartments catering to graduate students.

The sentiment seems a bit vacuous, but it’s the truth. Some days – actually, most days -- I really miss The Kettle.