Why I still use my grandmother’s antique coffee maker

A few months ago, my coffee maker died. I’d had it for seven whole years, which I thought was pretty good run for a coffee maker, and I’ve been putting off shopping for a replacement. Thus, I’ve been buying a cup from the gourmet market around the corner, ironically the cheapest coffee in the neighborhood: any size at $1.08 before 11 am, an inverted version of happy hour.

Over time, $1.08 adds up, so I had planned to make a shopping trip specifically to hunt for a new one when I remembered I had held onto my grandmother’s General Electric 12-cup percolator, mostly for sentimental reasons.

I’m not sure anyone else would consider a coffee maker an item with sentimental value, but I have so many memories of waking up after sleepovers at my grandparents’ house and hearing that percolator do its thing. Vivid, in fact, is the memory of throwing my legs over the side of the deep blue sofa bed in their den, careful to avoid the metal mechanism for fear of losing a finger, and running through the living room into their sunny kitchen.

The percolator would trill away while my grandfather at the stove made soon-to-be-burned abstract Mickey Mouse-shaped pancakes while my grandmother cleaned the kitchen. At lunch, she’d make soon-to-be-burned grilled cheeses while he went over their stocks with a fine tooth comb at their hickory kitchen table.

After breakfast, they’d clean up together; her washing, and him meticulously drying and putting away the dishes and the pan where the pancakes were crisped not fifteen minutes ago. They’d finish washing up, pour another round or coffee into their cups, and adjourn to the living room by the great sliding glass door that looked onto the 4th hole of their condominium’s golf course. He would read the newspaper and she would get a decent portion of the crossword puzzle completed before one of them would exchange their coffee cup for binoculars and proceed to spy on neighbors playing golf.

“Maida is out there again, Bill.”

“Ooh, Bill, she’s with Sophie,” my grandmother would note.

And the mornings would proceed quietly like this with only the telling of newspaper headlines, golf gossip, and the clinking of their coffee cups.

The morning of my planned shopping trip, I reached the top shelf to take her old percolator out for a spin. It had that film of stickiness that things in the kitchen get when they haven’t been used in years. I disregarded it and began to make sense of its internal parts. It doesn’t have any buttons; no automatic shut-off, no programmable timer, no self-cleaner, and none of that single-use throwaway K-cup crap. Just plain and simple on and off.

Having used a drip coffee maker all of my adult life, the long metal stem and set-up seemed foreign to me. I crossed my fingers when pouring water into the carafe and grounds into the metal filter basket that perched atop the stem, wondering how the water would ever reach the coffee. It felt good not having to mess around with a paper filter that would end up in the trash at the end of it all. I attached the adaptor, and without hesitation, the little orange light brightened and that old coffee pot got to work again, good as ever. It was on its way to making the perfect cup of hot coffee.

It astounds me to think I was impressed by my coffee maker functioning for seven whole years. If my math is right, my grandmother’s silver percolator is more than three decades old. If only things were still made this way, built to last.

Meanwhile, my grandmother turned ninety last summer and the women at her assisted living home call her “The Dictionary” because she’s the only one who can still remember anything. Built to last, indeed.

Sarah Sweeney is a voice actor and writer in New York City. She created The Vile Moods, a satire blog that catalogs stories of the bizarre sights, sounds, and smells she encounters while living in Manhattan. She’s never owned a car and loves learning how to live green. Read more at on her blog and say hey on Twitter