“A series of scheduling obstacles puts me in a funk. If I take the bus trip around the Lake District in England, this will detain me getting a train out until later and putting me in Chester too late to get a B&B. I cannot get hold of the pony-trekking stables, so I leave for Kendal, which will get me to Chester but not so late. I am hoping to see or do something in Kendal, but no luck there.
As I head to Chester, I recount decisions made throughout the trip. If I had gone on to Wales and Ireland rather than stopping in the Lake District, I would have saved myself two to three days. As it is, I end up seeing nothing in the poet’s Lake District—one place I wanted to experience. And now, there’s a ferry down and I cannot sail until Monday. Therefore, I am stuck in Chester for two days then on to Wales over the weekend. Weekends ironically have not been promising anywhere for me.
I want adventure stories in my journal, not wrong turns and stalled schedules. I am to the point I do not want to make a decision—any decision.
At the train station on a bulletin board, I find an announcement of the tourism program, At Home in Chester. I call a phone number and they match me with Margaret, a widow with grown children but vitally interested in the world and me specifically. After a visit for tea in her home and garden, she invites me to join her at the theatre’s Spring Thaw revue.
As luck would have it, the promoter cancelled the revue this week only. So Margaret, as a consolation, whisks me to a hotel for coffee. She warns me with a smile this is no ordinary cup of coffee. Fortunately, I am as dressed as I can be with my limited traveling wardrobe.
Margaret orders for us. We linger over conversation waiting for our coffee. Anticipation is part of the delight, I will learn. After the wait, the waiter approaches and smiles when he sees my eyes widen.
He sits a wine glass on a saucer in front of me, so I can view the inch of cream nesting on top of the coffee, floating, milky-white cream atop the dark chocolate-colored coffee, separate and distinct. The dainty teaspoon lies next to the cubes of raw sugar on the saucer.
I sit on the edge of my seat staring at the ebony-ivory, steaming duo in a singular goblet. Margaret leans forward with instructions, “Just gingerly lower the sugar cubes cradled in the spoon so as not to disturb the cream.” I do as she says, and she continues, “Now ever so slowly stir the cream into the coffee. See the cream swirling into the dark coffee in tiny strips … now wider ribbons … and now they begin to merge.”
The fragrance of that earthy acrid aroma lifts from the chalice with the tinkling of the spoon circling against the sides of the crystal glass, as I gently stir. My impatient anticipation ends as I lift the steaming vessel to my lips, inhale the aroma, smile at Margaret, and touch my lips to the hot rim, reminding me to cool the liquid by blowing lightly.
She oversees my ritual as she goes through the same motions, and then we sip our steaming concoctions. I close my eyes to shut out the world for just a moment to savor the potent, bittersweet coffee. My new friend eases back into her seat as she senses my pleasure of this exquisite glass of coffee. We nurse this single prize of coffee and savor our time together.
In addition to this extraordinary experience, Margaret serves as tour guide for the next leg of my trip. She has a friend who owns a guesthouse in Wales. She arranges lodging for me and creates a list of things to do while there. Margaret is that human connection I enjoyed at John and Marta’s, and with Malcolm and Mildred.
I am on the road again and this time with a memory tucked in my pocket of a woman, who understands the luxury of a single tumbler of exquisite coffee with a momentary friend.”
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