Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday Morning Breakfast: Black Coffee and Glazed Doughnuts

I hear crying from the driver’s seat as I get into the car. 

Before I can ask what’s wrong, my Aunt Catherine stops her fake wailing and smiles. “I’m going to miss you so much,” she says hugging me. “It’s been so good having you home.”

She’s giving me yet another ride to the Hartford bus station. I’m making my way to Boston again, but this time it isn’t for a weekend visit with my girlfriend Stephanie. This time, I’m headed to my adopted city to find an apartment so I can start my new job the following Monday. Sooner rather than later, I’ll be making a one-way trip, once again leaving my home state.

She does what she always does on these car rides. She argues about politics, talks about how much she misses my cousin Caryn and her family in Florida, and questions when I’m going to be putting a ring on Stephanie’s finger. By the time we get to Union Station, I don’t want our time to end.

“Get me updated on everything,” she says while giving me another long hug. “Text me details. I love you!”

I lean back in my seat on the bus. It’s been a stressful, cathartic, inspiring, and, ultimately, triumphant four months. Every good moment that’s occurred up to this point is made that much sweeter because of the good people I had supporting me since early August. I smile as the bus departs and I think back to how this story began. It started by me walking into Riverside Diner in Bristol, Conn., to meet my Aunt Catherine for our first Wednesday morning breakfast.

The Wednesday Morning Breakfast crew: Ken Ford, Tante Peewee, Aunt Catherine, and me
Okay, that’s the romantic version of how all this process began.

In reality, it started with me getting laid off from my job in New York City. The news came as Stephanie and I were deciding how we would make our relationship work when she moved back to Boston and I was still in Queens. Would I eventually move to Boston? Would we alternate weekends in Boston and New York? Would we meet in the middle? Did we really want to endure a long distance relationship?

All those questions became mute when I found out I wasn’t going to be the web editor for JCKonline for much longer. The final verdict: I would move home to Connecticut and work remotely for JCK while they transitioned to a new digital team. I’d hunt for jobs and apartments in the meantime.

“Did you ever think when you hired me that you’d be driving your stuff out of New York with me in a UHaul?” Stephanie asked as I navigated through Saturday morning traffic in the Bronx.

“No, I can’t say that I wrote the script up that way,” I replied.

Stephanie went home that Sunday and I found myself alone in my boyhood room that night after both of my roommates (ahem, parents) went to bed. A thought occurred to me and I rifled through my contact list on my phone. I sent a quick text to my Aunt Catherine.

You want to do breakfast one day this week? 

She said yes, and we made plans to meet at a diner not far from my house on Wednesday. It was the best idea I had all summer.

It was just she and I that morning and we acted like we had been meeting for breakfast like this forever. I updated her on everything that had happened to me in New York City the last couple of years and the plans I was making to get to Boston. She filled me in on her new Bible study class, how her house was quieter since Caryn and her four kids left for Florida, and how her health had improved recently.

“We’re lucky that something so good came out of what was an awful situation,” She told me that morning. She was referring to her sister—my older brother Tom’s mother—who died of cancer at a young age. My father then met and married my mother and the rest, as they say, is history. She gives me credit for bringing the two families together, but really, it’s because both sides had hearts so big it would have happened with or without me. My brother Patrick and I were just lucky to be the end results of all that love.

She also told me for the 50th time that she wanted me to write her eulogy (which never fails to make my older brother start complaining). I finished what felt like my fifth cup of coffee. As the hot black liquid made it’s way down my throat, I realized our breakfast tradition was older than that morning.

Growing up, Friday nights were more often than not spent at my Aunt Catherine and Uncle Dennis’ house. Our cousin Judy used to babysit for Patrick and I every afternoon after school, so we became really close. We never wanted to leave that house when one of my parents came to pick us up.

The best part of the sleepover was spending the morning with my Aunt Catherine. My cousins always slept late, but Patrick and I would be awake as soon as we heard her walk in the front door. We knew she’d be carrying delicious glazed doughnuts from the local bakery. The two of us would pig out while she enjoyed a doughnut of her own with her steaming black coffee. After that, she’d put the leash on their dog Fred and head out to the front porch for a cigarette. Patrick and I would sit right next to her on the bench, or on the front porch steps and watch the neighborhood. Occasionally, there would be a thunderstorm or snowstorm to enjoy. After that, Judy would be awake, and we jumped right into whatever adventures the three of us thought up. I remember thinking then that black coffee and glazed donuts with my Aunt Catherine were a great way to kick start a Saturday.

"Live for today," Aunt Cathy said, snapping me out of my memory. "Family is everything."

That’s when I asked her if she wanted to make this a weekly tradition.

The cast of characters that joined us changed throughout the summer and fall. My father usually had Wednesdays off, so he quickly became a permanent Wednesday Morning Breakfaster. My Tante Peewee made more than one appearance, and we moved our date to Sunday once so my mother and Stephanie could join us. My Uncle Dennis made a guest appearance at what turned out to be our last breakfast. I found out I landed a job in Boston a few hours after we forked the last helping of eggs into our mouths.

My Aunt Catherine was one of my first texts and while she was happy for me, she clearly had mixed feelings about it. Emotions that she had no trouble expressing as I hopped into her car this past Tuesday.

Add Aunt Cathy and me
Christmas Eve 2010
I’m nearing Boston. I can see the city skyline in the distance. It’s not long before the bus is driving by Fenway Park, which is preparing for Game 6 of the World Series.

As I make my way out of the station and to the first apartment appointment, I can’t help but chuckle over something my Aunt Catherine said before my job interview several weeks ago.

“If you need a reference, you can send them to your 63-year-old aunt and she’ll set them straight.” 

The spirit of her message and love gets me over the finish line. I’m writing this in a Starbucks and I’m raising a hot, black coffee in her honor.

I can’t wait for our next breakfast so I can tell her all about it.

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