Coffee Cabinets and Stella and Fred’s Love Story

Family July August 2012 510Thinking back to all the things that have inspired me over the years: people, plants, color, cloth, thread, paint, paper, books, bicycles, rocks, feathers, home, food, things that make food taste good, love, making love, babies, children, learning, pretending, playing, and growing up….trying to love God, love my family better, and grow up even more. It’s such a process. It’s ongoing.

It’s kind of a guilty pleasure having this time to write, really. In the middle of the night, with a baby lying on my lap. Smiling in his milk bubbled sleep, snoring occasionally, making an odd face from time to time. Flinching. I could watch his face change for eternity and never tire of his looks.

This is how life is. You take a chance, you see something you want, and you go for it. Some folks are better at figuring out what that is, early on. I often think of musicians, and their passion for making beautiful sounds, and how amazing it is, all that raw talent that they thread thru various needles and keep pressing on, until it’s been refined into something palatable. Something sewn up right. A masterpiece. And the time and energy and drive it takes to make that happen, when the truth is, maybe they will be recognized for their art, and maybe not. Is it just luck?

I happen to be someone who doesn’t believe in luck. I absolutely do though, believe in the divine. I believe that God has put you right where you are today, for a very important purpose. It may not seem particularly magical right now, but when you look back, you will see after years have passed, how your work is something special.

I had the life changing opportunity to spend sometime with my family near the ocean this summer. It was very impactful. I got to hear stories from my 94 year old grandmother about how she met my grandfather, and what she found inspiring. I heard tales of the Coffee Cabinet, which is an original to New England: it is a coffee flavored milk shake (think iced frappe), the first date she had with my grand dad was drinking one of these after a long days work as a secretary for the Government …..and that even though her 100% Ukrainian family felt strongly that she shouldn’t marry this Englishman, she did anyhow, and did the unthinkable: moved out of the neighborhood that she had lived her entire life. As the only child in her family (she also had a younger brother that died when he was very young), this was devastating to her folks. She had been honored with the title of most athletic girl in her high school, and had hoped to join the army when she graduated. Instead, because her parents hated the army idea, she went to Katherine Gibbs Secretary School and found a job straight away working for the Government. One day, when she got back from grabbing something from the other room, there was a young man sitting at her desk, typing on HER TYPEWRITER. She told him without equivocation to get the heck out of her work space, to which he replied, I am a newspaper reporter for the local newspaper, and I was simply typing up some observations. She wasn’t having any of that and wouldn’t let him get in her way, so she shooed him right out the front door. Grandpa let her know that he wasn’t happy with this decision, and so it was a bit of a surprise when he was there, at five thirty sharp requesting the pleasure of her company, and even offered to buy her a Coffee Cabinet. Well, good for him…. because that was her favorite beverage!

They hit it off, and married soon after. We all got a good chuckle thinking about the family trying to get Grandpa and his whole family to agree to a Ukrainian wedding. The poor Episcopalians had to go through the whole riga-ma- roll of that big fat Ukrainian wedding!!! All Grandpa ever knew of the Ukrainian language was la-tab-lo-loo (I love you). Grandma Stella loved him and their life together. They spent days working, and evenings at sporting events and shows and concerts as he often had to go to write reviews for Variety, the part-time job he had for over twenty years in Detroit.

She loved him then, and she loves him now, and even though he had to leave early (he died in 1982 of ALS at only 61 years of age)  and she doesn’t regret a single moment of it. She doesn’t wish to change a thing. The time they chose to move to Detroit, the children they had, the life they made for themselves….it was all good and all meaningful. And when the idea was presented at some point that she remarry- Grandma Stella looked down at her ring and said: “Oh, but I am married!” She knows him still, and after all these years, doesn’t love him any less. How’s that for faithful? It was a beautiful witness to her sincere love for her husband!

Also, as a bonus, I sent this post over to Grandma, (for review)-who by the way still types faster than me, and does a crossword puzzle everyday, not to mention keeps track of the stats for several baseball teams!! When I asked her to tell me a little more about being Ukrainian in America, especially as a little girl, was there anything that stands out in her memory, this is what she said:

“As I sit here in my room and watch my 3-year-old great grandson, I think back the many years and realize how different life is today.  Take the toys.  There are a zillion of them here and more at his home.  There are dozens of stuffed toys: there are trucks and plows and dumpsters; a cart full of legos for building houses, forts and villages; puzzles, books and so much more.  Back then, if we had one toy, we were very special.  Toys were usually handmade from a block of wood, or some kind of stuffed animal or doll.  My great grandson will be going to school soon, and just think of the head start he will have!

 I can’t remember that far back too well, but at age 5 I did go to school.  I came from an ethnic family and we spoke no English at home.  I guess I must have learned to shake my head “yes” or “no”, or maybe I could say those two words because I passed on from grade to grade each year, and graduated from high school in 12 years.  I got a certificate saying that I had perfect attendance and was not late or absent during that whole time.  What a lesson: Always be there, and be on time!  Life and times have surely changed in the last 90 years, but ask yourself:  Is it for the better?”

I think that was pretty well said. Thanks Grandma. I love you.

я тебе люблю


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