“Old friends, old friends, sat on their park bench like bookends.”
When I was in college, my summer job was working as an interpreter at a living history farm in Bozeman, Montana. Looking back, I could not imagine myself landing a better job than this – dressing up as a circa 1900 woman, cooking on a wood stove, talking to visitors, learning how to crochet and embroider and sew on a treadle machine, getting to try a huge array of interesting vegetables from an ever-expanding heritage garden, and, best of all, learning from the bottomless well of knowledge that was our volunteer base. We had everything from blacksmiths to gardeners, spinners and weavers and musicians, all historians of sorts, all (or mostly) lovely, wise, fascinating people.
My favourite days on the farm were usually Saturdays, particularly early in the season when it was still a bit chilly. If it was raining out, the house would be dark (no electricity!) and visitors rarely came down the wooden sidewalk. Those were the days when I would build up the fire in the wood stove, make a big pot of cowboy coffee, and sit around the table with my boss, Dave Kinsey, and one of my very favourite ladies, Karen James. I was only a teenager, but they never, ever made me feel small. We would talk about the farm, Western history, our town, our lives, local politics, and so on. And, usually, Karen would bring a truly magnificent coffee cake. We’d sit there, cozy and pleasant, eating piece after piece of this sinfully buttery cake covered in sugary walnuts and cinnamon. We’d drink gallons of coffee, ignoring the grounds sinking to the bottom of our cups as we topped up and poked the fire. I know it sounds funny and a little naughty that I loved those peaceful mornings when nobody would come around the house looking for a tour! But it was those sweet friendships we were forging that I found myself looking forward to all week, and missing when the job was over for another summer.
A few years later, when I was working for Heartland Truly Moving Pictures in downtown Indianapolis, I formed similar bonds with many of the staff. I still remember when Kevin Swiontek would poke his head in my office nearly every morning with the same single worded question: “Coffee?” He’d usually accompany the query with a gesture of drinking a cup. I would smile, grab my purse, and join the group that also usually included my friends Claire Brosman and Kristi Gross as we walked across the street to Nordstrom’s coffee shop. Somehow, we all needed those few moments of camaraderie at the start of our long days, just a short break to get a breath of fresh air and ask how everyone’s weekends went. It brought us closer as friends and co-workers. And if it was a good day, or perhaps a particularly bad day, I would treat myself to Nordstrom’s “old-fashioned” coffee cake, which was the closest confection I’ve ever had, before or since, to Karen’s wonderful cake. This one was probably factory made, but still buttery, rich, and sweet with nuts and cinnamon. So the same comfortable association lived on, even in another time and another city. Continue reading