The Epigenetics of Coffee: A short story of a good future, inspired by the DNA of the past
Updated: Jun 21
Wow, another beautiful day.
Early sun peers over the windowsill, not yet confident enough to bring in the day. I pause mid-shovel to let the whisper of light warm the back of my eyes, glowing red. Only a moment slides by before the shepherds hook of a hungry bleat drags me back into my boots. Its already late. Too late to still be in the barn.
Dozens of earnest milk pails later, I resist the urge to succumb to my hunched shoulders and aching fingers to wrangle the girls out to pasture. The day has just begun.
I trudge into the hazy kitchen and am greeted by a singing kettle and a quiet, sympathetic wife.
“We’re slow today.” I groan, slowly sinking into the chair by the door—the only place I’m allowed in barn boots and milking clothes.
“There’s always tomorrow,” she says. Gingerly, she lays a hand on my shoulder, hands me a cup, and pours the first of the day…
…coffee ricochets off the bottom of my cup, splattering across the table in front of me. My stomach turns harder than the soggy deck beneath me. I take a measured sip and lean left—it’s unclear who is more upset this morning, Mr. Polich, head in his hands, or the salted Adriatic.
There is a unique kind of patience to be found at sea. The waiting of farms through seasons is far more bountiful than boats waiting only weeks.
I look to my friend and wonder if this trip is our last. I think of all the years I’ve known Mr. Polich. How many years before neighbors become friends? I’ve met the other side of the world six times already. It must be more than six.
Shivering, I lean to the right, coffee tilting in synch. What a miserable symphony.
Dreaming about land that sits still, I lift my cup and rest my lip against the salty rim…
…I slowly take a sip of today’s third cup, savoring the dark grittiness that reminds me of sweet, Northern Wisconsin dirt.
“That’s six, finish up your cups and let’s head back out.” Today, we got 5 dynamite’s worth of coffee. What an unexpected luxury in the middle of the afternoon.
Boots on, hats tight, my brothers and I head back out to the fields shoulder to shoulder, crashing through dry autumn leaves. We chuckle about this last, stubborn stump. 40 acres of forest cleared across generations one “boom” at a time and the last held onto its roots with ferocious loyalty for two whole afternoons.
We ignore the throb of calloused hands and laugh some more—this time about the Polich kids chasing each other up the windmill. Emil pauses, throws his head back, and laughs, hearty and Balkan, about the butter churned in my pocket hiking last years’ deer drive. I laugh too. It’s a good day.
Tomorrow, the Kovacic’s truck will head south—I pray the reassuring whir of the engine will rock me to sleep until we hit Highway 8. I wonder how many truck beds I’ll sleep on before I hit campus. I wonder about class, and libraries, and learning about corn in books.
Ma walks out with a thermos and more coffee than any good man needs in a day. I make a mental note to get up early in time to say goodbye. I think she want to hold this moment. She hands me the small, metal cap and I smile at her, indulgently throwing back the last of the day’s joe…
…I tip my cup up high over my head, trying to savor the last drop of frothy espresso to no avail. Empty, I clank it down on the cluttered papers in front of me. I didn’t need another at this hour if I ever wanted to get to bed.
My partner comes around the corner and peeks in at me, “It’s a little late, isn’t it? Why don’t you come to bed, you can put the finishing touches on tomorrow.”
Nodding both knowingly and annoyed, I close everything down—a lazy wave sweeps the tabs away, one button quiets a library’s worth of books on my tablet, tapping my finger against the keyboard sensor silences the whir of my laptop. I pause for a moment and imagine myself standing before tomorrow’s panel, hmming and hawing over 5 years of work. Ideas and musings and blood, sweat, and tears all etched into paper for a blessing.
Down the hall I hear the hungry plea of fussy toddlers and stand to wrangle them for a late-night feeding. I dream of uninterrupted nights, my kids poring over their own work. I peer down at the dry, cakey foam at the bottom of my cup, intentionally lingering in the moment—a moment that someday I know I will miss. Tracing the brim of my cup I wonder if my girls will remember their mom, up late and drinking coffee and walk through the door to their nursery…
…I awake feeling electric with a low, humming vibration in my chest and shoulders. It’s working, I think to myself with a gasp that propels me through the oval door with a woosh. I snatch some coffee, freshly brewed, and settle myself on the floor before the portal facing the sun, eager to dive in.
Steadying my breath, I wait for relaxation to steep. A few moments pass before I sink deeper into the stillness. Slowly, I start to dig up the histories within me, vibrating deep under my skin, then closer, and finally fully immersed behind my eyelids with a flicker.
On this day…I’m in a one-room-schoolhouse. Three apples roll across my desk tasting like childlike giddiness and Christmas. Foreign letters flit across the dusty, faded page of an army-issued language book. The slime of a too-small fish slips through too-small fingers, reassured by big, warm hands.
I bring my own hands to the bottom of my coffee cup—hot, not warm—and channel the patience that stays farmers through drought, immigrants through voyage, and mothers through long nights.
With a swirl of my coffee, I stir up generations of good days to savor. I open my eyes, ready to start the day.
Wow, another beautiful day.
About this Writing
This writing is inspired by real events and stories passed down over hot cups of coffee with my Grandfather. It explores how we carry past lives and traditions with us through generations of circumstance, and how those past realities can serve as a portal into the future. The prompt: In what ways might you relate the way you act, move and relate to others to the privileges and vulnerabilities you experience as a result of your own history, culture, characteristics? What are the meaningful elements of a good life, for you? Tell us the story of that world come true.