November 29, 2020
By Arthur H. Gunther III
We all have our time and mood anchors, those moments of memory that moor us in the ordinary as well as during the storms that hit our lives. Stress of any sort — financial, emotional, health — drive us to port, and we are grateful for the safe harbor. When I was a youngster, one of my safer slips was early morning in winter, about 6:30, when the house heat had started to come up and I was rousing to get ready for elementary school. My working mother was already off, and my father, on the night shift, would be getting breakfast for my brother and me, a simple affair of Rice Krispies or hot oatmeal, as well as making our lunches. In those years, when there might be a new school to attend (we moved around a bit), friends to make, classes to get used to, different woods to explore in the semi-rural areas in which we lived, having the routine of a small breakfast prepared by a busy dad, in a house just getting nice and warm, with the dark of winter yet to raise its nightshade on dawn, with the wonderful smell of my father’s fresh-brewed coffee and the sound of New York radio’s Martin Block on 1130 AM, there was reassurance that the day would proceed in good-enough fashion. The scene was the same, you see, no matter where we lived, so it was one of those safe harbors. The available anchorage continued through high school, and the memory of it still comforts today. When I was older but not far beyond my teen years, yet some seasons removed from my father’s breakfast morning routine, another early-day moment came my way and also reassured. In that time, I drove a friend daily to a New York City college, and since one of my many faults happily did not include honking the horn for someone to come out, I was invited in to wait a short while. In the winter, the same sort as my youth, in the dark, I again felt the rising heat of a household and the strong whiff of coffee brewing as my friend’s mother prepared breakfast for her daughter. Not much conversation passed between me, shy enough, and the mother, though it was more than what was said between father and son just 10 years or so before. Yet nothing had to be spoken. It was the reassurance of the moment. The memory of this woman’s welcome, as with my dad’s morning routine, was one of those small treasures available in the box that you open to begin your day. A polished jewel, really.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. This essay is adapted from an earlier piece.