Coffee Cake

Here’s another essay I wrote in college. This one’s called “Coffee Cake” … and it makes me tear up. It’s about returning home after being away for a while.

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I park the white Chevy Tahoe under the basketball hoop in the three-car driveway, and push the button on the garage door opener.  I cannot hear the noise it makes because the radio is still loud from my six hour drive home.  I wait for the door to go up before getting out since it’s getting dark out and the alley has no lights.  The garage has not changed since I was last home. The right side is still crammed full of saws, lawn tools, bikes, and wood. A lot of those objects have not seen the light of day in a long time.  I maneuver my way between that mess and my Mom’s dark-red Saturn before opening the door to the laundry room.  The little room is hot and sticky, it smells like bleach, and the machines are on.  The door into the kitchen is light and as I close it, it shakes my bedroom door, which is right above.

I call out and the first creature to great me is my yellow-lab, Ross. He is getting older, yet this does not stop him from bouncing around, wagging his tail in circles, and barking.  The loud noise from his mouth bothers his ears because after every two barks or so he shakes his head.  My chocolate-lab, Bucky, comes in looking sleepy but he manages to greet me through the noise that Ross makes. I am very happy to see him, yet sad because he moves slower these days and has more gray hair under his chin.  Through the ruckus that the dogs make, I manage to set my computer case and backpack on the wooden table to my left.

I hear my Dad greet me from the living room as he gets off of his spot on the couch where he watches TV.  He comes into the kitchen and gives me a hug, and tells me how glad he is to have me home even though this break will be faster than we all wish.  His hair has gotten grayer on the sides of his head. However, this light color is more noticeable on his facial hair.  My Dad claims to have lost weight since the last time I saw him, but I do not notice.  His dark green Green Bay Packer T-shirt and black basketball shorts fit him like they always have.  Even though he has gotten grouchier over the years, my Dad’s eyes and smile remain as bright and cheerful as always.

My Mom comes in from the dining room, where she works on projects for her job, and gives me a hug too.  She’s wearing sweatpants and one of my old T-shirts, which I refuse to wear.  She has her dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, and her eyes look tired, which I can see through her glasses. I can also see the stress in her face from hours of work dealing with people in Egypt and fixing their mistakes.  But no matter how tired she is, she still asks if I am hungry and offers me food.

The furniture in the living room has not changed.  I curl up into the corner of the couch and I can feel the wood through the upholstery where the padding has been warn down.  From here I have the best view of the TV, which sits in a fake-wood cabinet stashed into the corner of the room with the fireplace to the left.  On the wall to the right a large window faces out to the front yard.  I cannot see out of it right now because all of my Mom’s plants have relocated inside for the winter.  The plants take over the house as soon as the temperature drops.  To my left sits the end-table, which is covered in Diet Coke cans, and a loveseat covered in a navy blue sheet, which faces the window.  The TV is loud, almost too loud, but the volume drowns out the sound of the TV from the loft, the radio in the kitchen, the washer and dryer, the dishwasher, and sometimes the dogs.

This is always a point of contention in our house.  The amount of noise that it produces at times overwhelms me.  And it seems that as soon as my Dad walks in the door, the level increases dramatically.  It has always been that way, but I’ve gotten used to my quiet dorm room and all of this noise is sometimes too much.  When the TV is on in my dorm room, it never gets this loud because there is little noise to compete with.

My brother, Danny, came home from the University of Texas at Austin a few days ago and I’ve been home for a little over a week.  He sits down on the recliner, which is on the other side of the loveseat.  Danny’s blonde hair has gotten darker and is cut short, and he wears a T-shirt from American Eagle and khaki shorts.  His appearance has changed to as he seems taller and I can see the effects of him playing basketball daily and working out.  The chair makes a loud popping sound as he pulls up on the lever to release the footrest.  As soon as he has taken this spot him and my Dad, who sits on the couch next to me, start talking about tonight’s choice of programming, Desperate Housewives.  They like to make wisecracks and comment about anything and everything that goes on in the show.  I enjoy this pastime too, but I generally keep my comments to myself.  My Mom and I both complain about this and turn the volume up even more to drown out their loud voices, and my Dad tells us to lighten up.

After dinner one night, my Mom takes her place on the love seat and picks up the paper TV guide from its spot on top of a wood chest in the middle of the room.  My Dad made this chest and painted the top blue and American flag on one side.  It has come to have multiple uses: storage, a newspaper and remote control collector, an ottoman, and sometimes it even serves as a resting place for my Dad’s acoustic guitar.  Even though DirecTV has its own guide, my Mom insists on using the guide provided in the Sunday edition of The Dallas Morning News.  While she looks through there, my Dad flips through the channels on the TV.  He can never stay on one channel especially during a commercial break.  He asks her what she wants to watch and they start the I’ll-just-go-watch-in-the-bedroom game, which is when my Mom threatens to leave the room if my Dad will be flipping through the channels.  He promises to leave it on one channel, and as usual we watch what is deemed as “reality” TV.

Deciding what to watch in our house becomes an adventure also.  Even though there are three TVs in the house with satellite, this is something we can almost never agree on.  Now there are shows that all of us will watch, some that only both my Mom and I will watch, or those that only my brother and Dad will watch.  My Dad will usually give in to watching shows that my Mom wants because he does not want her to leave the room.  I am used to watching what shows I want, when I want, and where I want so having to work around my parents’ television habits sometimes throws me off.

A few days later, my Dad comes in from work during the four o’clock hour. I am watching a rerun of Gilmore Girls on ABC Family.  As soon as he sees that this show is on, he complains about the pausing between each line and asks how many times I have seen this particular episode.  His comment reflects on my ability to watch reruns of Boy Meets World, That ‘70s Show, and Gilmore Girls over and over without even thinking about it.  This ability leads to debates with my Dad and him teasing me about knowing all the lines in these shows.  Even though this teasing annoys me, I will miss it when I am gone.

The last few moments at home before I return to Arkansas are bittersweet.  I watch as my dogs get excited and nervous about me bringing my bags downstairs.  I set them behind the couch, and put things up high that I know Bucky would love to sink his teeth into and carry around the house.  An air of sadness surrounds me and my parents.  My Mom once again offers me something to eat, and I can smell the coffee cake cooking in the oven.  My Dad starts to take my things out to the SUV where this vacation at home started.  As I pull out one of the kitchen chairs, it makes a loud, low screeching noise and I sit down.

I look around my surroundings once more and can hear the TV on in the living room.  Both of the dogs are near me and they get excited every time my Dad comes in through the door.  They think they get to come with me, and I wish they could.  There is a blue laundry basket sitting on the kitchen table full of unfolded laundry, an unopened newspaper, and other various papers.  When the coffee cake is finished, my Mom cuts me a piece and brings it over to the table so I can eat it.  I put the fork in the moist cake and eat it slowly as I try to savor my last moments at home.

My Mom is the strong one in the family as the three of us go out into the driveway.  The sun is out and warming the air around us.  My brother has not joined us for this goodbye session.  I give my Dad a big hug and then he makes me give my Mom a hug.  I tell them I love them and they say the same.  I wrap my arms around my Dad again and squeeze him as tight as I can.  He tells me to give my Mom another hug and this is when I start to lose it.  As soon as I start to cry so does my Dad.  The time comes for me to get in the car and start my journey back.  My Dad stands in the open door and tells me to have a safe trip and we say a quick prayer.  After he closes the door, I turn the Tahoe on and adjust everything to my liking for the long drive ahead.

As I pull away from the house I see my Dad in the rear-view mirror standing in the middle of the alley, and I can still feel his arms around me. I cannot look long because the tears blur in my eyes and I have to focus on the road.  I do not know when I will be home next, or when I will see my parents next.  I do know that my spot on the couch will be kept warm for the next time I’m home, and the TV will remain on, as it waits for me to hear and debate about what it has to offer with my family.

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