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  • Kristan Higgins

Greatest Gram & Coffee

Updated: May 3, 2022

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My love affair with coffee began when I was twelve years old in my great-grandmother’s kitchen. She was an amazing woman—about 4’ 10”, solid as the butcher block on which she cleaved chickens using tools of dubious cleanliness. She owned a little grocery store called Kristan’s Market, and her magical apartment was in the back.

I still remember the thrill of going into her secret chambers. Great-Gram (not to be confused with Plain Gram, my mother’s mother) immigrated by herself from Hungary when she was 14 years old. She had about a third-grade education, but I’m not sure she ever went to school. She learned English the hard way, but enough to read the paper and play the stock market, which she did with somewhat shocking success. I doubt Great-Gram owned a pair of pants. She wore sturdy black lace-up shoes and an apron unless she was going to church, in which case the apron came off. She never cut her hair, which she’d braid and wrap around her head.

Anyway, back to coffee. I sat at her enamel-topped table, and she poured me a cup of coffee (the kind of pot that sat on the stove) without asking if I wanted any. “Great-Gram, I’m only twelve!” I said. “It might stunt my growth!” (I was a meager 5’ 7” at the time.)

She laughed, stirred in two heaping teaspoons of sugar, and added about a quarter cup of half-and-half. “Try,” she said. “You’ll like.”


Anything Great-Gram’s made was always better and somewhat exotic—tiny hamburgers served on Saltines; buttered Saltines sprinkled with sugar; stuffed cabbage so good you couldn’t stop eating until your intestines rebelled.

The coffee was no exception. So sugary it crunched, strong and creamy. I started having a cup every morning. My growth was not stunted.

Years later, when I was a nanny, the mom of my little charges suggested that too much sugar wasn’t good for a person (it was revelatory news at the time). Because I loved and admired her so much, I went cold turkey, finding that coffee without sugar was A-okay. My friend Heidi tried to get me to drink coffee black, which would be more convenient, but I found that it was Satan’s drink. Besides, I love dairy farmers. They need me. I don’t like frou-frou coffees, though I’ll drink cappuccino once in a while. But my favorite is a simple, basic cuppa joe. Half-and-half. Never milk.

Well, gotta go make another cup. Sure, I’m an addict. It could be worse.


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