When I was in middle school, my Nana picked me up once a week to drive me to martial arts lessons. She always brought a snack to fuel me for all of the punching and kicking. I enjoyed the occasional banana, but there was usually a yogurt tucked into the backseat cupholder. Vanilla Greek yogurt made the most frequent appearance. I always looked forward to the special kind with the little pocket of crunchy, chocolate-covered rice puffs that I dumped into the creamy white base. It probably wasn’t the most nutritious choice, but I embraced it whenever I could.
Sometimes, Papa tagged along. From the safety of the backseat, I watched the two squabble about everything from directions to driving techniques.
“Watch out for that red light, Ann!”
“I know, John, I see it too!”
Most of the time, he requested a stop at Starbucks so Nana could get him a small black coffee. In the winter, the windows were shut tight against the cold. Soon enough, the hot air from the heater wafted toward me and carried the strong, rich scent of espresso along with it. It sometimes made me want to drift off to sleep. Nana warned Papa not to drink the coffee in the car. I guessed she was afraid that a sudden stop would send the scalding liquid flying as he took the lid off to let it cool. But he probably snuck a sip or two in when her eyes were on the road.
Bumpy roads and unexpected red lights didn’t always provide the best environment for snack enjoyment, but I tried my best. Peeling back the yogurt wrapper was the most difficult part. Just like Papa, I had to be sure not to spill anything on the car’s clean interior. Napkins were a definite necessity. Luckily, there were never any disasters. A plastic spoon did the trick so that I could easily dispose of the container and utensil together.
Although I was preoccupied with the yogurt ordeal, the stop for coffee always appeared to me as a small, even inconvenient gesture. My younger, energetic self grew restless as we neared the martial arts studio. I couldn’t wait to get out of the car and get to practice. Why did we have to delay the journey any longer? A Starbucks break seemed to pale in importance to getting where I needed to go.
All I saw back then was my grandparents coming to pick me up from school. What I didn’t realize was how selflessly they were acting. A stop for coffee wasn’t just for Papa’s enjoyment, it was an extra moment of time that we could spend together. Nana’s snacks and driving weren’t services provided simply because my parents were unavailable, they were a way for us to strengthen our bond. These were a couple of the many ways that my grandparents showed my cousins and me that they loved us. And I may not have told them that during all those times when I was anxious for the car ride to be over. I may not have relayed my appreciation as I rushed toward the studio doors, with a hurried “Thanks, love you” and a brief kiss on the cheek. But I know that they always put my happiness first. Spoken or unspoken, through car rides, yogurts, and coffees, the love was there.
Eventually, the arguments over directions and red lights were resolved. I always got to my lessons with a leisurely ten minutes to spare, in true Mahoney fashion. I could take a deep breath. There was no need to be nervous in the first place. Now, I would gladly welcome another stop for coffee and a conversation about my day just to sit in the backseat of that old Toyota one more time. When I was a carefree middle schooler and my biggest worries were punctuality and what kind of snack I would get. Because my grandparents always made sure that I would never have to be concerned about anything else.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Dreams Time.