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What I’ve learned from coffee row

Northwest Vignettes

In a weekly news column I write, I refer to these daily table gatherings as part of our community culture. Anyone who has grown up in Saskatchewan knows this to be absolutely true.

The urban dictionary refers to coffee row as “a place where groups of people, typically seniors and farmers gather to have coffee and converse about the day’s events.” The term has its origins in rural Saskatchewan and Alberta. Typically "coffee row" occurs in small town restaurants and co-ops, but the phenomena have been observed in fast food restaurants in large cities as well as any restaurant that serves "bottomless" cups of coffee and is not too strict on what some would consider “loitering.”

Today people might turn to Facebook or Twitter for a quick answer on “what kind of bug is this, or who would be the best guy to go to for a new muffler.” But it wasn’t all that many years ago, this kind of assistance was found in a place fondly referred to as “coffee row.”

Advice may be limited to a handful of local experts, however the wisdom presented and the variety of topics, all handled while enjoying a fresh cup of hot coffee, is an experience I hope is not being overtaken by the Internet.

Coffee row is a place where friends and neighbours meet almost every morning to tell stories and discuss current events in the community, in the province or in our country. It can still be a great place to help work through challenges faced on the farm, considering that often decades of farming experience are frequently sitting amongst “rowers” at these tables. There is never a shortage of advice and I’ve heard that can be a flavour of embellishment when it comes to a golf game or fishing trip.

As kids growing up, we always understood it was our stay-at-home moms who “coffeed” each day or several times a week to catch up on the latest happenings in town before social media and cellphones were prominent. Yet, when dad came home from work or town, we would soon learn men had as much “coffee” time as women.

I also know it was on coffee row that immediate responses to a community crisis or family need was born. Before electronic communication was part of our habits, coffee row was the place folks depended on to tell them about John Doe’s hard luck or the local rink suffering another setback that may result in closure. What would happen next was a remarkable display of “Saskatchewanism” as folks would rush to gather supporters to help wherever it was needed. Offering to fix a collapsed roof on a community building or jumping in equipment from their farm to go help on “Joe’s” farm as he was experiencing unfortunate life circumstances.

Some refer to this daily meeting of the minds as “coffee college,” noting that all the best things in life are taught at this table. A community I used to work in would always chuckle that they needed the “dean of coffee college” to arrive before any proceedings could take place.

There isn’t a set time to arrive, there is no formal invitation, only a tradition and routine each day by those who enjoy sharing the company of others in their community over a cup of coffee. What amazes me is no matter what side of the topic table these folks are on, you always hear a laugh, you always see smiling and everyone leaves, no matter whose side they were on, agreeing to reconvene the next day.

Their coffee might get cold but their camaraderie and friendship are always warm and inviting. You don’t have to have a membership, anyone is free to join, and no matter the venue, there is always room for one more.

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