I kiss my husband goodbye as he leaves for a ten-day business trip and feel the loneliness set in as soon as he backs out of the driveway.
The sky looks gray and gives me an unsettled feeling. A dear friend's little boy just broke his leg. And another sweet friend is having a double mastectomy tomorrow. I want to help without too much hovering.
Yet, there are happy things to look forward to as well. My cute younger sister flies in tonight for a week of fall festivities. The air is turning crisp and the leaves are starting to fall. A package with Halloween costumes arrives in the mail.
What can I do to nourish my children and comfort myself? Help my friends in their trials? Welcome a favorite guest? Celebrate the beginning of a wonderful new season?
I know just the thing...a pot of homemade chicken noodle soup. The soup that has nourished and comforted and welcomed and celebrated for at least four generations in our family.
Tradition has it that my great-grandmother, Adelilah, worked all day plucking poultry during the Depression so that she could bring home a chicken for her own family at the end of the day. I picture her stirring it on the stove as her little ones slide on the hardwood floors in their hollow living room. Empty, because the bank had just come to take away the family's pretty new furniture.
In those days, I'm sure Great-grandma wasn't too worried about calories or carbs. Probably just wanted to stretch the soup as far as it would go. I've heard she was a wonderful baker and picture her tenderly baking loaves of fresh bread to go with the hot soup.
I wonder if Great-grandma served chicken noodle soup to her oldest son when he got sick. Did her tears salt the broth after his funeral? Or when her younger two sons went off to war? I'll bet the soldier boys missed her cooking and felt that all was well when they could finally come home and eat a bowl of chicken soup at the family table.
Great-grandma passed the recipe on to her new daughter-in-law, my Grama June. I picture Grama stirring the pot in her yellow kitchen while the kids watched "I Love Lucy" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" after school.
I'm sure Grama served the soup in exquisite blue and white china bowls, with a crisp side salad and some kind of fancy seeded roll. Martha Stewart could've learned a thing or two from Grama June.
Did Grama roll her eyes across the table as her oldest daughter and son tormented the littlest sister about the imaginary orange spot on the back of her head? I'm sure being a dutiful daughter-in-law she followed the recipe perfectly. But, knowing Grampa, he probably teased her about "not quite measuring up" to his mother's version and would have shaken in a whole lot of extra salt.
June's tormenting oldest daughter grew up to be my mom, Marty. I remember Mom making chicken noodle soup for company, for birthday celebrations and to take to sick friends. Watching her, I learned to measure the cream in half an eggshell and roll the noodles with a pizza cutter.
The smell of Mom's chicken soup warmed up any house and made it a home. When our family had moved to another country far away and were feeling homesick and lonely, Mom lit the gas range in that funny, damp kitchen and stirred up her magic potion. Looking back, I think she must have been as comforted making the soup as we all were eating it.
I tried my hand at soup making as a new bride. Surprisingly, it was not as easy as Mom always made it look! I learned that one cannot make a rich, delicious chicken stock by simply boiling boneless, skinless breasts. And I learned not to get my feelings hurt when my new husband sacreligiously crushed a whole sleeve of saltines in the bowl and proceeded to eat the whole thing with a (gasp) fork!
After a few years' trial and error, I have made my own (healthier) adjustments to the family recipe. I use skim milk instead of cream and add a whole bunch of chopped carrots and celery so my kids get an extra serving of vegetables. Sometimes, in a pinch, I use canned chicken broth and chop up those skinless, boneless breasts. But I always make the noodles from scratch and I always serve myself a big mugful before dinnertime. Just to make sure it tastes ok.
The phone rings. It's Jake's teacher. She got my message about our rough morning and is just calling to say that he's doing fine and the day is going very well. Wow! Such a great teacher. How can I thank her for all that she does? Hmmm...maybe a Gladware bowl of homemade chicken soup!