It’s hard for me to believe, but you’ve been enjoying a “Cup of Coffee with Katie” for over a year and a half now; however, for quite some time before that, there was someone else who enjoyed a monthly cup of coffee with me: in real time, face-to-face, not through the interface of a digital screen. If you flip through my planners from the past few years (which yes, of course I keep!) you’ll notice the same entry somewhere on almost every monthly calendar: Coffee with Linda.
Linda was the first teacher I met at my new school when I arrived in Baltimore back in the summer of 2010. When I went to unload some boxes in my new middle school classroom, she was sitting across the hall at her desk in a classroom already decorated and prepared for the start of the new year (note: it was mid-July at this point). She and I were the 6th grade team that year and she helped me navigate the world of middle school: one which was completely foreign to this 2nd grade teacher transplant. We shared very few things in common: I was a math person, she was not; she LOVED the Ravens, I showed up on the first Friday of the school year in a black cotton dress with a yellow cardigan (a huge no-no I soon learned in this anti-Steeler city where I now reside); she was in her final year of teaching after a career which spanned 25+ years, I was a bright-eyed 3rd year teacher full of dreams for the future. And yet, two interests united us: a tendency to arrive at school before 6:30 AM to get work done, and (probably in large part due to this tendency) a devout love of coffee. We quickly became fast friends and would take turns stopping on Tuesdays, our self-designated “Treat Ourselves to Dunkin coffee” day, to purchase 2 large coffees. We’d share brief life updates over the first few sips and then retreat to our respective desks to plan for the day ahead.
At the end of that academic year, Linda retired and I moved back down to the world of elementary to teach 3rd grade. It was around October of that year (2011) when our “Coffee with Linda/Katie” tradition was born. Each month we’d meet at Dunkin so I could fill her in on stories of life back in the classroom while she regaled me with stories of her retirement: books she finally had time to read, trips to Virginia she now could take, etc. In the years since, we have kept this tradition alive. She heard stories of my various moves to different grades, my health struggles, my great “Should I move to NYC to take this job I’ve been offered?” debate, etc. I got to hear about her daugther’s boyfriend who within a few coffee visits had become a fiance, and eventually the coffee date after the wedding where we scrolled through all the photos. The thing about monthly meetups is that time passes quickly between each one, and yet it’s enough time that only the major topics and events are really shared. It was around this time last year that Linda’s health took a turn for the worse and many of our coffee meetups relocated to her hospital room or her house. Though her body was weaker, her spirit and her faith remained strong as I filled her in on the Physicist and she shared the news that she was going to be a grandmother. This past December I went to visit her at Hopkins (with 2 cups of Dunkin in hand of course!), and she finally got to meet the Physicist. We hadn’t even made it to the elevator on our way out when my phone buzzed with her evaluation: “He is such a sweetheart! I fully approve”.
Unfortunately her health continued to decline and this past Friday, she peacefully left this world behind. I went back in my phone after a call from her daughter and saw that, fittingly, her last message to me was a picture of a stitch in her latest cross-stitch project which she captioned, “this stitch looks like the pi sign. Thought of you!”, followed by a “P.S. Hi to John!!” I had written her a response and also sent her a message on the now-infamous Pi Day 2015, but I now know her health precluded a response by that time.
I wanted to share the story of our coffee tradition for several reasons. In part because I’ll miss our monthly meetups; in part because she’s yet another person who inspired me with the way she handled the numerous health setbacks and challenges which she faced over the past few years. Her prayer book was never far from her side, and she found great solace and strength in prayer and in her relationship with Christ, something I admired and also tried to emulate during my own health challenges. Lastly, because often times we think of friendship as something we share with people who look and think like we do. And yet, despite our decades-wide age gap, Linda and I became fast friends. We shared a tradition I cherished, we shared laughs over delicious coffee, and she shared advice which I’ll carry with me until the day I reach my sunset years of teaching and befriend a young, wide-eyed new teacher and take her out for a cup of coffee.
Tomorrow I’ll pay Linda one final visit, and I’ll certainly be downing at least one cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee on my way. I’d encourage you to do the same. Maybe buy 2, and then show up at work and strike up a conversation with someone new over your delicious cups of coffee. You never know when a new friend might be sitting at the desk just across the hall…
And of course, just this afternoon, an email landed in my inbox: an entire month of 99 cent coffee (any size!!) begins on Wednesday. I can’t help but wonder if Linda had a little something to do with this one…
Seriously though, if you don’t have DD perks, sign up now. April of 99 cent coffee, here we come 🙂