Praise Be to St. Omar

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of coffee. One account involves the Yemenite Sufi mystic Ghothul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili. When traveling in Ethiopia, the legend goes, he observed birds of unusual vitality, and, upon trying the berries that the birds had been eating, experienced the same vitality.

Other accounts attribute the discovery of coffee to Sheik Abou’l Hasan Schadheli’s disciple, Omar. According to the ancient Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript, Omar, who was known for his ability to cure the sick through prayer, was once exiled from Mocha to a desert cave near Ousab. Starving, Omar chewed berries from nearby shrubbery, but found them to be bitter. He tried roasting the beans to improve the flavor, but they became hard. He then tried boiling them to soften the bean, which resulted in a fragrant brown liquid. Upon drinking the liquid Omar was revitalized and sustained for days. As stories of this “miracle drug” reached Mocha, Omar was asked to return and was made a saint.

The momentous, all-morning trip to St. Louis required coffee—lots of it.  At 7:15 in the morning I brought the sleeping May a fresh cup of “the wine of the bean.”  We packed quite quickly, and said goodbye numerous times to the various Carlsons milling about, who had often been absent over the previous few days now wishing, ironically, we could stick around.  Christmas, I assured, was just around the corner.

The drive south through the chill, barren Illinois landscape allowed us time to reflect on the concluded holiday trip.  My family still seemed to with us, riding along in the backseat.  Sonya was discussed at great length, her past and present failings and possibilities of a future (hit rock bottom without a net), and her parallels with May’s older, manic friend Grace.  May was certain seeing my family quite in their quirky, well-meaning rawness was a big step.  I agreed, used their ways, yet understood the novelty of their eccentricities would naturally be more pronounced for her.

Most of all, now, May wanted the same chance to show off her Rhode Island and her parents too.  We had talked about it many times, normally ending with me apologizing that I would not have the funds for a holiday flight.  She took it always in stride, and tried to bare the notion of waiting until the March.  I became quiet as I steered along the interstate.

“How much,” I ventured, dreading the notion of being the air “would a flight be?” signaling my resigned understanding we could/should make the journey together.

“Well, truth be told, I was ready to get you tickets already, as your Christmas present,” she said.  I laughed off my belief in gremlins, pledging to ring in 2012 in New England.  It made May happy, which is well worth the coming turbulence.

Both of our pantries bare, I made a quick detour into my old college town Edwardsville and it’s newly remodeled Schnucks.  I effortlessly threw produce into the cart while May fetched milk on her own, without an incident that was the Carlson stock-in-trade.  Gone again on an aisle six excursion, she came back soon with a new brand of coffee, and questions did not ensue the sidelines.  It was not a trapeze affair, both of us getting the sensation of ear-popping from a 30,000 decent.  “We needed to do this,” I said, selecting some cheese, a some crisp shoots of green onions “to reset, and be ourselves again.”  May heartily concurred.

Reset.  A New Game.

But who carries quarters these days?

In the end St. Louis itself seemed to comp me the charge, welcoming me back for free as we passed over the Poplar Street Bridge, making a quick loop towards Lindenwood.

The Chicago Bears even rebounded quite nicely too, against the visiting Minnesota Vikings.  The ball was hanging in mid-kick off just as I unloaded (simply dropped) my bags, and soon Chicago had smashed their way to a surprising 28-3 margin.  Just after halftime Fox, sensing the competition and the ad dollars tilting away from them, suddenly cut away to the American South, and a more lucrative Atlanta-Tampa Bay game.

Winning isn’t everything.


The opening chapter of this story,  “The Burden of Heavy Ornaments,” can be read here.

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