This I Believe

Jennifer - Astoria, New York
Entered on November 11, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: pleasure
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I believe soup is home.

I’m not a foodie, but I know a good bowl of soup when I slurp one. As trends go, I believe that soup’s been shoved on the back burner for too long.

Since I was a pigtailed girl kneeling on a too-large, too-polished oak chair in Grandma’s Central Pennsylvanian home, I’ve tasted soup’s sending power. Then it was homemade chicken noodle I spooned during those “football weekends” when my parents ditched me en route to cheer on the Nittany Lions that sent me back to Mom’s kitchen smile, to my goldfish, and my dollhouse made for me by my Dad’s own hands. One moment I’d be leaning in, blowing off steam, slurping noodles and, occasionally, drawing napkin to mouth to spit out a bone fragment Grandma’s stock straining missed, and the next I’d hear, “Jenny. Goodnight; I love you.”

Eating soup is wrapping your winter body in an old quilt; it’s a phone call from mom, an email from an old pal, a backrub from your lover when you need it the most; it’s your dog’s tail-waggling lick. Soup is home.

When I moved to Iowa to attend graduate school my new neighbor—a retired teacher and avid gardener—snuck a mason jar of stew on my stoop with a note that read “welcome home.” While I slurped up her carrot, zucchini, potato-ed, tomato goodness that first weekend in a strange corn swept land, I thought of Mom, of football, of grandma, and of the meaning of home.

Since then, my life has been a lesson in zip-code recall. In Cleveland, I met some organic vegetable growers who showed me how to transform a squash into a spine-tingling, cinnamon spiced soup. It’s also where a former LA punk star turned chef stirred up his Mom’s summer Gazpacho for me in the tiny Tremont restaurant I managed. At the Philadelphia University where I wrote grants, lunch was a trip to the Chinese food-truck for a bowl of hot and sour. Soon, my Turkish boss offered me a lesson in his mother’s cuisine in situ. In Istanbul, I ate a bowl of soup almost every day. Café soups, soups at guests rich or poor, the ingredients varied—the effects, they led me home. In September, 2003, I packed for Manhattan. By November, I was in a deep depression. My work was unfulfilling and my partner, the reason for this move, seldom home. Daily I sat and read the New Yorker while slurping a bowl in Grand Central’s Food Court. I don’t know how I’d have made it though that year without soup (potato, lentil, chicken mole, mulligatawny, tomato, corn chowder…).

Tonight, I’m in Astoria thawing out black-bean soup made by my Cuban born mother in law. I’ll need to add salt like Grandma did. When my husband tastes it, he’ll ask for bread and I’ll remember the feel of Grandma’s soda crackers crumbling through my open hands, hearing all their voices say in their own way “welcome home.”