Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Grandaughter's Soul


I'b sick.

It happens every year. The kids go back to school and bring back germs. They get a little sniffle sniffle, a little koff koff. I get the head cold from hell with a full complement of symptoms. If you're like me, nothing is more comforting than a mug of steaming hot chicken soup when you're under the weather.

But not just any chicken soup. No sir. No reconsituted quivering chicken flavored goo from a can will suffice.

When I'm sick I want chicken soup made from my grandmother's age old family recipe. "Dane Soup" they call it, though I don't know why. We have a smattering of Danish heritage, but we are mostly of German descent. My Great Grandmother's name was Willhelmena Ernestina Steinberg, (Steenberg, not Stineberg) and it doesn't get much more German than that. My Grandmother, Rena, married my grandfather, Edwin Schroeder (ShrAY-der, not ShrOH-der).

The combination of their genetic Teotonism created four children who could have been poster children for the Aryan race. So the name has nothing to do with lineage, nor do the Danish hold a patent on chicken soup...at least not to my knowledge.

It's a true mystery.

This soup is a badge of honor in our family. It's difficult to make becuase one must do more than just follow a recipe. The ingredients are fairly simple, the combination unremarkable. But for the dumplings to come out right...firm but springy, light but substantial, doughy but not floury...one has to have a certain sense of when the batter is right. It must be thicker than pancake batter, but not as thick as drop biscuit dough. It must be elastic but not sticky. It must sliiiide off the spoon, clinging, stretching, until the filament breaks and springs back. It not only has to look right, but it has to feel right when it slips into the bubbling broth. It must sink quickly and then bob to the surface where it will be steamed into plump and tender perfection.

Once, I used self-rising flour in ignorance. When I expectantly lifted the lid off the pot, I was stunned to see that the dough had absorbed all the liquid and swollen into one giant dumpling with bits of chicken, celery and carrot protruding from it's craterous surface. Another time, I forgot to add the melted butter and the dumplings crumbled into the soup leaving bits and pieces of gluey debris floating in the rich yellow broth. Once, for no particular reason that I could think of, the dumplings sank to the bottom of the pot and stayed there, where they became, tough, warty little clods.

But I've got it now. My dumplings are perfect and that means that I have passed the test. I'll always be remembered in the family as one who got the dumplings right. But it means more than that to me. It means a sense of connection to a grandmother I never knew. Every time I make this soup, I think of her and I miss her. She died when I was an infant of a myseterious heart malady. When asked, the simply country doctor said "Well, she had an enlarged heart. But she needed a big heart. She was a big lady."

A cousin of mine, who was 13 at the time, told me just recently that it was the worst day of her life. Because according to everyone who was lucky enough to know her, Rena Mary Schroeder was the quintessential cookie baking, doll clothes sewing, apron, glove and girdle wearing, in your face with hugs and kisses Grandma.

My mom often tells me how proud Grandma was of me. My mother was born late in my grandparents' lives, although these days, 35 isn't "late" at all. But her closest sibling was already 17, so by the time I was born, most of the grandkids were teenagers, and there had been no babies for quite some time. I had a full head of black hair, and my mother would tell me smilingly how Grandma had to take off my bonnet and show everyone my mop of plentiful jet black hair.

The other cousins had all been fair and bald (that Teutonic blood again)...one until the advanced age of three...and Grandma delighted in the novelty of a hirsute baby. She knitted me sweaters and booties and bonnets, she sewed me dresses, she combed my hair into fantastic creations secured with bows and ribbons and pink plastic barrettes. She showered me with love and attention and then, quite unfairly, she died abruptly at 59 with no warning and no word of good-bye.

Then, I didn't realize what a loss her death was, but years later as a young girl, with only one remaining Grandma, who was enjoying her freedom after years of raising three boys to adulthood on her own and wasn't particularly interested in baking cookies or sewing doll clothes...I felt monumentally cheated.

Every Christmas and every birthday I missed her. When people spoke of her, I was jealous and I was angry. Why hadn't she gone to the doctor? Why hadn't she taken better care of her health? Didn't she care about being there for her last three grandchildren?? And then just as quickly, I would feel contrition and sorrow. Of course she hadn't wanted to die. She hadn't meant to leave us without a grandmother. Like all of us, she just never thought that death would claim her so soon or so suddenly.

Not long ago, while cleaning out my Aunt's basement in preparation for their move to a retirement community, my mother came accross several old reels of 8mm home movies. She brought them home and showed them to me on my last visit. I had seen many photos of my grandmother of course, but its hard to divine someone's essence from a motionless black and white photo.

As I watched the grainy flickering image on my parents' living room wall, she emerged form the screen door of a white farnhouse. Startled and embarassed by the camera, she smiled. That smile took my breath away. She was so beautiful, but it was more than that. It was proof that she actually lived and breathed and existed somewhere other than my imagination. She patted her hair and then waved her hand as if to indicate that the camerman should not waste any more precious film on her. As she walked away, I was struck by a sense of overwhelming familiarity. I knew that gait, I knew the shape of her body. But how? Was it an actual memory, or just the desperate need to identify with her somehow?

Just then my sister breezed in, and once again my breath was snatched from my chest. I had always wondered where my sister got her beautifully aquiline nose and her sweeetly shaped lips. But it was more than shared features. It was the sway of her hips, the curve of her bosom, the spring in her step. They were so similar that it gave me goosebumps. And now I have something other than a crumpled photograph or a grainy home movie. She is more than just a hazy, amorphous grandmother ideal. She was real and she lives on in my sister, and all of us really. Nearly 40 years after her death she is always a topic of conversation at family gatherings. She is spoken of as if she was here only yesterday.

So I stir my soup, and I think of my Grandma. The comfort is not in the soup itself, but in the history of its making. I feel close to her and I like to think she would have been proud. I did it Grandma. I made the soup.

If I'd had a girl child, she would have been named Rena. I would tell her all about the woman she was named after, and I would have taught her to make Dane Soup.

Originally posted 09/07/06. Reposted because first my computer and now I, am once again, sick.

14 Comments:

  • At 7:25 AM, Blogger Avalon said…

    In my family, it's the sweet tomato relish. I used to make it with my Grandmother at the end of every summer. When she died, the only thing I wanted was her food chopper. I still make the relish every year, and when that manual chopper comes down from the shelf, I smile at the memories.

     
  • At 8:17 AM, Blogger Sarah said…

    Feel better!

     
  • At 12:21 PM, Blogger Amy York said…

    I didn't get to read this the first time around... What a fantastic woman your Grandmother sounds like! I am glad you found her again in your sister.
    Hope you feel better soon!

     
  • At 1:08 PM, Anonymous pinks & Blues Girls said…

    I have a grandmother who had recipes for every ailment - soar throat, sniffles, headache, broken heart...

    Unfortunately, since she's now 89, she tends to forget key ingredients or use ingredients that just should have been thrown away like 4 years ago.

    Thanks for sharing these memories! Made me think back to eating my own grandmother's food (when it was edible)!

    Jane, Pinks & Blues

     
  • At 3:13 PM, Blogger flutter said…

    The wistfulness of this is really charming and that soup looks amazing.

    And also? Feel better.

     
  • At 3:18 PM, Blogger thailandchani said…

    Hope you are feeling much better soon. The soup sounds great!


    Peace,

    ~Chani
    http://thailandgal.blogspot.com

     
  • At 4:11 PM, Blogger Cathy said…

    I love a good dumpling. The soup sounds as lovely as your post.

    Hope you feel better soon.

     
  • At 7:56 PM, Blogger liv said…

    Me too. My kids are sick and they're taking me down with them. Want to make some of that soup and drive down 75 a little ways?

     
  • At 10:23 PM, Blogger SUEB0B said…

    You write this well when you're SICK? I'm jealous.

     
  • At 11:11 PM, Blogger painted maypole said…

    this was a lovely post. hope you feel better soon.

     
  • At 3:25 PM, Blogger dawn224 said…

    59 is a pivotal age for women on my family, my mom and grandma became grandparents at 59 (both times b/c of me). My ggma died at 59 as well (I had nothing to do with that one). It's amazing how family traits show so strong.

    Amazing post.

     
  • At 11:11 AM, Blogger InfertileMadWoman said…

    What a great post!!!! I hope you feel better, mine brought home the germs already to!!!

     
  • At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I feel the same way about my grandfather. He died when I was born and I feel like I missed out on the most interesting person in the world. I still love to listen to stories about him 35 years later. -NTA

     
  • At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Yvette said…

    What a beautiful, moving, true tale. I know that I have felt this way about my Grandmother after she passed. And now I see family resemblances with my kids - my son's feet are the same as my sister's, who is diabetic. I know that if I lose her too early, that thought alone gives me such great comfort. Thanks you for such a beautiful post and a wonderful site! I look forward to reading more.

     

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