There she was, going above and beyond the call of duty as a colleague and friend, and I missed it. She had tried to put a bit of humanity back into the grind we had been enduring. But, unfortunately, that’s not what I thought until after the dumb “any cream or sugar” line ran through my head and out of my mouth. That line had temporarily cut off the grownup part of my brain that should have said, “Thank you!”, instead.
Realizing I had missed her point, I tried to recover by saying, “Never mind. Black is fine! You know me, I love a great cup of coffee.”
“Well, I didn’t say it was a great cup of coffee.”
“Uhm, where’d it come from? The gas station down at the end of the road?”
“Oh, lord no. There was a jar of instant up in the cupboard…so that’s what you and I got!”
I just stood there, now really not knowing what to say, holding the cup in my hands and grinning confusedly. She looked at me and busted out laughing. “Oh my gosh, Marty. You’ve got a lot to learn about life and when people are trying to be nice to you.”
“You’re right. I’m not exactly the quickest on picking up on hints or gestures.”
“You don’t say?”
“Well…you earned that one.”
“That’s okay, we’ve both been under a lot of stress lately. So, I thought we needed to have a little fun ‘pick me up’ today.”
“Well, I think that it’s a great idea.”
“Good. Now, now hush and drink your coffee.”
“Yes, Ma’am!” I said, chuckling.
Freda really was a class act. She had taught long enough and had been a mom long enough to see right through the junk that kids would try to throw at us, as teachers. More than once I saw her tell a student, “Young man, you’re not going to do that in here. You’re in here to learn, along with everybody else in this class. And since this is my class, that’s exactly what you’re going to do. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Ma’am” always followed.
She never yelled, never screamed, and never let the kids see if she got flustered. She always exhibited kindness to the students in her care and to those of us who had the privilege of working with her as colleagues.
All of that sense – of who she was – rolled through my head in the moment that came after the “cream or sugar” question. And even in her response of looking through all of the cupboards and shelves of the fridge to gently to make a point, she still conveyed the message of “here’s some kindness, if you’ll accept it”.
So, years later, I still tip my hat to you, Ma’am, and say, “Thank you for a great cup of coffee. Thank you for your kindness in a cup.”
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