Author Bio Sondra Powell hails from Sonora, Kentucky where she cultivated a love for thrift stores, rhinestones and sensible platform shoes before graduating from the University of Louisville in 1999. After several Girl Friday jobs in her beloved, quirky new hometown where she lives in a little old lady house with a concrete wrap around porch with a yellow porchlight, she learned to roast coffee in 2006, and has been caffeinating the city ever since.
Red Hot Roasters has appeared nationally in Marie Claire, Food Network Magazine, HGTV Mag and Martha Stewart, but most importantly featured in Louisvillian’s cups. Sondra brings delicious coffees roasted in small, flavorful batches and the finest organic ingredients to her loyal customers. She believes strongly in supporting other local businesses as a way to build a thriving community. A visit to RedHot’s iconic orange drive-thru window ensures a smile, witty banter (where you may notice she reserves a special laugh for her own joke), full-bodied coffee custom made to your taste—plus the promise to remember not only how you take your coffee, but your dog’s name as well—from the best-dressed barista in town.
Depending on the corner of your street in Louisville, it may feel uneasy to know that last fall, one block away, someone was murdered. No one likes to remember these things, things that sometimes happen at the corners of streets in our own cities. They become one of those “somewhere around here’s” and the specific names of the streets that meet fall into the corner of our mind’s eye. The memory that jogs in the small talk between people at gas stations, bars, behind coffee counters and windows, is cemented in one concrete; that it happened one block from the corner of Shelby and Broadway.
The place with the clock tower; the minty-green steeple. A church. St. Martin of Tours Catholic Church. There is a chapel there, the only in the Metro-Louisville area, that keeps its doors open 24-hours a day, all the days in a year. This is one thing I love about Louisville. This is not a/my religious manifesto. I’ve been asked to share one thing I love about Louisville. This is my answer.
Let me explain here that I’m not a member of the parish, nor a congregant of any local or farther-reaching faith-based community. This is not a piece about my personal beliefs and those of religious denominations, judgments, knowledge (my lack thereof nor yours) nor opinions of such. It isn’t about the fact, fascination, or curiosity that robed, skeletal remains of Christian relics are housed in glass cases near the altar inside. “Don’t they have mummies in there?” is something I’ve heard repeated all over our city. I don’t know why they are there or what they did to deserve sainthood. I really don’t know my saints. But I like the idea of Saints; that one could ask their favor and they would intervene on your behalf.
Louisville is deeply rooted in its history, and Kentuckians are known to be people who are tied to the land, to place, with the idea and pride of home. St. Martins is deeply rooted in its own history, and within the history of Louisville. In my terms, I think it burned at some point; it’s old. Specifically, it was built in 1853. It’s survived what Louisville has survived: floods; fires; tornadoes; economic atmosphere; changing demographics; and stereotypes.
I’ve lived in Kentucky my entire life. For two years I lived half of a mile from St.Martin. I rode my bike to and from work for two years without knowing the church was even there. And like anything you didn’t notice until you did, you think, “How’d I miss that?”
Despite the neighborhood association with the person killed one block away last fall, assumptions about the underbellies of places, of people, and stories on the news that can scare so easily, I’ve gone inside lots of times. I like to go in the evenings. Each time I’m the only one, there is no one else there, save the security guard. I think he is from someplace warmer. We talk about the weather. I’m not afraid of that neighborhood. I often joke (and believe) that I’m a tough cookie. And though I don’t expect it, and he doesn’t have to, the guard in the uniform will open the door for me. I think, I don’t need to be walked to my car every time when he walks me to my car when I leave. He jokes, with flexed muscles that he’s “got this” when he walks me to my car. He tells me to be careful.
The guard is always the same when I go: a large black man in a beige uniform, maybe mid 40s. He sits at a small computer and watches the security cameras. Sometimes I’ve caught the green background of a game of solitaire on his computer screen.
When I walk in the tiles on the floor become little microphones pointed to the tips of my heels, now so loud I feel an urgency to be quiet.
An urgency for quiet. To be small.To sit. Sometimes I go because I need some time by myself, no phone calls, no texts. I think it will be a nice place to think. And this happens each time–this urgent need for quiet I didn’t know was there. How’d I miss that?
Though the church is old, the inside doesn’t look old, but feels older. This is America after all, let’s face it, we are young. Our churches are not the churches of Europe, Louisville churches aren’t those of its “sister city” Montpelier. But the stained glass, the gold stars on the cornflower-blue ceiling, the dark wood, the creamy white curves in the arches of things, the ashy soot from candles burned down to pan, are ancient to me.
Sometimes it smells like incense. Sometimes the candles flicker, sometimes more are less lit than others. Sometimes the steam pipes clang.
Sometimes I go when someone dies and light a candle and I sit. I hope for the same peace I hoped for them in my car, at work, at the grocery. I don’t kneel. I don’t pray. I don’t clasp my hands or close my eyes. I just sit over toward the right of things, a little hidden by the Virgin Mary statue, off to the corner of things, me, the statue and the security guard by the door, and think. Maybe it’s meditation, maybe it’s an inner request for guidance, maybe it’s just a moment to be ok with not knowing anything.
Sometimes when someone I love is in pain or struggling, I go there. It doesn’t matter if I don’t know why. It’s a place pocketed in the heart of Louisville where I can go, when I need to, anytime of any day.
Maybe it’s part of the entire coffee business spectrum and the experience and ritual of making and drinking coffee, but I know a lot about my customers. Not just the way they take their coffee, something deeply personal and individual, but through the drive-thru window they lean in and I lean in and people tell me things all the time. It may be something terrible. It may be that they secretly like vanilla lattes. But I’d like to think that they know it stays at the window, that there’s something holy in the way the hot coffee feels held in the hand. Like coin in the pocket, a lit candle, being alone in your car, a security officer who will walk you there anyway, the promise of 24/7, the wish for someone to be careful, for someone to make your coffee the way they hope it–there’s trust in all of it.
We’re all in pain. There’s no way to open the envelopes and sort through everything, even the daily grind. We find places or things we love in Louisville to clear the mind. To declutter. The day’s desk, the opinions of others, the needs of our own. Maybe it’s the overlook at the top of Iroquois Hill, Maybe it’s the Boston Shake at shared over the red concrete table of in front of the Dairy Dell, or a vodka martini and a few of those bacon wrapped dates savored in dark, sunk-in booths of Jack Fry’s. Louisville has lots of pockets. Lots of things to love. This is one of mine.
Even though I don’t need to, I go to St. Martin’s to scribble a hope or a wish, a thought, a prayer I guess, on a piece of paper and shove the paper into the box just to the right of the Virgin Mary. Sometimes I hope someone reads it.