Six years ago we sold our house and prepared to move cross-country. We faced the daunting task of paring down 30 years worth of accumulated stuff. It took two garage sales, a number of trips to charities, and a last minute frenzy of giving stuff away to pare down to”essentials”. It turned out to be 17,000 pounds of essentials, but that’s another story. This story is about boxes of coffee cups. Through the years, beginning soon after we were married (and still in college), we accumulated numerous coffee cups. At the time of our move we came across all of the cups that over the years we had carefully wrapped, put into boxes, and stored in our cavernous basement. It is funny what can mark milestones in a person’s life.
The first great milestone was moving into a trailer off-campus as I worked to finish my Master degree. We were newlyweds, worked odd jobs, went to classes, and eked by on a monthly budget that today would hardly fill a tank of gas. To celebrate our first anniversary, we bought two brown coffee cups. Rather plain, but made special by the knowledge that somehow they served to strengthen our bond. Through the next thirty years we would occasionally retrieve them from the “Cups” box and use them on our anniversary. Not every anniversary, but enough of them to ensure that now coffee always tastes a little better when drank from those particular cups.
The next milestone came when I started my first job. In the Cadillac Motors Design Room everyone drank coffee. You could either use the Styrofoam cups at the coffee station, or you could provide your own cup. In those conservative corporate days, it was expected for everyone to dress pretty much the same. But there were no rules about cups. Through my cups, I can relive the various stages of my seven-year career at General Motors. From insecure young engineer, marked by an unadorned but functional cup, through to disillusioned and jaded corporate cog, with each stage sporting a succession of increasingly individualistic themed coffee cups. From early idealism marked by cups bearing the corporate emblem or particular car model, to full-blown cynicism marked by humorous, but sarcastic, sayings wrapped around cups paraded to and from the coffee station.
Then came the cups from my business years. Many were received as gifts by vendors. Those were all high quality cups, sporting various logos, or names of the vendor’s latest product. New ones were offered whenever a new version of the product was announced. I still use those cups, although many of the vendors, along with my company, have since passed from the business world. A testament to the money spent on advertising, those cups have lasted through years and years of daily use. They are not revered, and are used daily without any afterthought. But once in a while I notice the logo, or the name of the product, that spawned the cup’s career into marketing. Those markings bring back memories of hundreds of people. They may have been vendors, clients, or employees, and they all handled those cups while we exchanged views and drank coffee. When we closed the business, employees took some of the cups with them to their new jobs, while other cups were divided amongst the people that were the last to leave. Some people had personal favorites; some just wanted a memento from a time that was passing into memory.
Then there were the milestones at home. Souvenirs from memorable trips, like the green and purple cups we purchased in Germany during our 1995 trip. We lugged them around Europe, and used them to prepare instant coffee. A few cups were gifts from friends or family,marking holidays, birthdays, or other special occasions. The glass Nestle World Cup was ordered for a few bucks, and is still one of my favorites. We found a few cups from our cabin in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We sold the cabin, but the cups still held the memories of sitting by the shore of Lake Huron, drinking coffee, and watching the Great Lakes freighters slowly follow the St. Lawrence Seaway. Other cups were bought to fit holders in cars we no longer owned. Preparing coffee thermoses for our driving trips is a ritual my wife and I still follow. There’s something about sipping coffee,talking, and cruising along a scenic highway in our Suburban that has defies quantifying.
We parted with some of those cups, putting a “free” sign on them, belying their emotional value. It did not make sense to lug all of them to our new home, but we could not bear to throw them away. We just hoped they would find someone who would appreciate them anew. We kept more than we needed, and it was a struggle to decide which stayed and which went. Some are destined to always remain in the box, their sole function to hold safe the memories of times, and coffees, gone by. Funny what can mark milestones in a person’s life.
After we are gone, someone might open that box, and all they will see are cups . . . the memories will all have faded away with us. Perhaps some of the cups will go on to be reminders for other people’s journey. At least I like to think such will be their fate.