Happiness is a refreshing cup of iced coffee

By Gail Appleson

During a recent learner’s service at Nusach Hari B’nai Zion, Rabbi Ze’ev Smason asked congregants for examples of things that have made them happy.

One gentleman talked about holding a grandchild for the first time and a woman talked about the beauty of nature. I kept my mouth shut because the very first thing that popped into my head was far from profound. It was iced coffee.  To be more specific, it was a Facebook posting made a few days before by Evan Cohen, the son of my dear first cousin, JoAnn and her husband, Mike. 

Evan, who lives in Memphis where Jo and I also grew up, posted about his method of making iced coffee at home. It made me smile because I was drinking my own homemade iced coffee when I read it. “It must be genetic,” I thought.

Of course, iced coffee may not seem like such an exotic thing these days — everybody seems to have it from Starbucks to Dunkin’ Donuts. But when I was growing up in the South, nobody drank iced coffee.  All you ever saw was sweetened iced tea. But not at my parent’s house. My mother was a transplant from the Northeast and had worked as a nurse in New York City. So when the heat cranked up during the sizzling Memphis summer, my mother cranked out the iced coffee.

Mom liked her coffee black — no sugar, no milk — and so strong it would put hair on your chest. So it took me a while to adapt to her ritual. But adapt I did. The thing was, though, it just was not a beverage you’d find at a Memphis restaurant in those days. If you wanted it, you’d have to make it yourself.

When I ended up moving to New York City in 1983, well before Starbucks had spread to Manhattan from Seattle, I thought I’d hit the jackpot. Not only could I have real bagels, but iced coffee was everywhere. Even street vendors sold it.

When I’d go home for family visits in Memphis, Mom and I maintained our iced coffee tradition. We had our own special heavy glasses and even a preference in drinking straws. Lingering together over our coffee was the best part of the day. We kept that tradition after both Mom and I moved to St. Louis. Helping her unpack here, I was thrilled to find those iced coffee glasses and her plastic container for the straws.

After she passed away in late 2008, I kept our glasses and that plastic container.  And when the heat cranks up in St. Louis, I crank out my iced coffee. In fact, it’s become such a habit, I hadn’t really even thought about it until I saw Evan’s posting and listened to Rabbi Smason’s discussion about happiness. 

He talked about not really “having” something if you don’t appreciate it. I guess I’d been making iced coffee for so long, it hadn’t dawned on me what a great treasure I have in this simple ritual. After all, there’s a lot more here to appreciate than just the taste of iced coffee. It’s about the very special friendship I had with my mother and a unique bond that hasn’t weakened over time. 

So, yes, iced coffee does make me happy. To Evan, I say, think of my mother, your Aunt Malk, when making your home brew. She’d be proud of you. L’dor V’dor.