“Child, what are you drinking?”
Usually, we could hear a nun approaching behind us. Those clacking rosaries and heavy footsteps gave children advance warning before the wrath of heaven descended upon their misdeeds. I must have been extra tired that day because I heard nothing, not even the rustling of the voluminous black habit Sister Wilhelmina wore. I was in the last seat near the back door of the classroom. Sister must have slipped into the hall and attacked from behind.
Sister Wilhelmena was the oldest nun at St. John School, and the most petite. She was not my regular second grade teacher, but was the room monitor for First Friday breakfast period. Every first Friday of the month, the students attended Mass before classes began and were allowed a small breakfast afterwards at their desks. I brought my usual breakfast that morning, coffee and a Tastycake treat.
Yes, I was a seven-year-old sugar and caffeine addict.
I remember drinking coffee as a toddler. By elementary school, I had a two cup a day habit. I drank the strong stuff, percolated, with a splash of milk. I’ve often wondered if I was self-medicating with the caffeine because coffee often averted my cluster migraine attacks when I was young. I’ve also wondered why my mother allowed me to drink coffee at such a young age, but times were different then, I suppose.
I had to admit it to Sister. She was looming behind me and staring at the open thermos. Our corner of the classroom was beginning to smell like a coffee shop.
“Coffee, sister,” I whispered with my head down.
No ruler descended. No ear was grabbed.
“My mother allows me to drink it,” I said, daring a glance at the nun.
Sister Wilhelmena instructed me to wait a minute before I took another sip, then she slipped away. I sat frozen for an eternity. I didn’t look up, just sat staring at my cursed thermos. As if summoned by magic, a tiny porcelain teacup with pink roses appeared on my desk.
“Would you share just a cup, child?” Sister Wilhelmena whispered.
My shaky hand poured the coffee into her teacup. Sister Wilhelmina savored each sip with her eyes closed, surely sending a prayer of gratitude to heaven.