Soup and Memories
When I cook, I always manage to leave a mess, and so after we ate our soup, I went to the stove and began cleaning up and the celery ends lying there on the counter triggered the memory of the first real meal that I ever cooked, it, too, was soup.
I must have been about eight, maybe nine. The snow had begun falling the day before and all night long the snow fell until it covered everything. I could hear Bullet, our dog, under the house, his tail tapping the pipes. “Can’t we bring him in?” I begged.
Mama, lying on the sofa, raised her head. “Put some old sheets and towels around the door and the windows, try to block the wind.”
I got another quilt and put on top of her, she had been getting radiation for cancer and was burned really bad so that she spent most of her days trying to just be still. “Here,” I said. “Let Kathy get under there to help keep you warm. I’ll fill the hot water bottle.”
While the water heated a little, I opened the back door. Bullet hurried out from under the house and darted in the door along with snow and the cold. He turned three times one way and three times another way and flopped his big body down and the light tapping of his tail on the pipes was replaced by the thumping of his tail on the old hardwood floor.
The wind blew most of the day and finally by evening, the snow stopped and the wind died down. We were hungry and the roads were too slick for my sisters, who were all married and who had taken over the task of feeding us, to make it over, so Mama told me to go try and get something going, maybe some beans or a pan of cornbread.
I had seen her make dinner a million times and I knew beans took all day and I knew, sorta, how to make corn bread but not enough to really cook. In fact, other than oatmeal and popcorn, I had never cooked, and Mama, in her post cobalt state, must have forgotten.
I opened the refrigerator and moved a half empty carton of milk out of the way, and scooted the condiments around, and found a wilted stalk of celery and some left over fried potatoes. In the freezer was plenty of frozen foods, and since I knew nothing about cooking, everything there seemed complicated and mysterious.
Finally, driven more by boredom than real hunger, I took Mama’s big pot from under the cabinet and put it on the stove, I added a picture of water and some lard and while the lard began to melt in the hot water, I put salt and pepper and the left over potatoes and the wilted stalk of celery and dried out onion. The water came to a rapid boil and I cut the heat back. When I went back into the living room, Mama and Kathy were sleeping. The rest of the evening, I minded the concoction that boiled slowly on the stove.
I was reading when she finally woke up. “What smells so good,” she said.
I went to check on the food, that did smell good, and the stalk of celery had turned to mush and the onion too, so I mashed them with a fork and what didn’t blend up, I dipped out and fed to Bullet. In the cabinet were three bowels and three glasses and I found three spoons, nothing matched. I dipped the soup into our bowels, found some crackers, and carried the bowels and drinks one set at a time to the living room where I put them on the coffee table. We ate our soup in silence and after Mama had eaten a few bites, she got back under the covers, I heated more water for her hot water bottle, and Tippy’s tale pounded the hard wood floor.