Recipe For Hope
Or rather, her stories. I've just discovered that she has a series of clips on YouTube, and I've watched them all.
Maybe watching her satisfies some kind of need in me. I never really had a grandmother. And she seems like the kind of grandmother my own grandmother would have been, had she lived through my childhood.
I have an aunt who filled my grandmother's shoes when she passed away. And she became the keeper of our family's stories. These stories didn't mean much to me when I was a child. Now, they are my touchstone; my link with people long dead, but no less a part of me for never having known them.
Miss Clara reminds me a bit of her as well.
It's funny how the food that our mothers and grandmothers prepared hold so many memories. And how we keep them alive by feeding our own families the food that has warmed body and soul for generations.
Clara's grandchildren like her "Poorman's meal."
My husband fondly remembers his Nanny's fried apple pies and cathead biscuits.
When I think of my grandmother, I think of soup. There is the "Dane" soup that has become a staple in my own kitchen, but also, creamy, buttery potato soup. And rich, hearty beef and barley soup.
When I was a child, my mouth would water as I watched my mother ladling soup into squat bowls. I enjoyed inhaling the fragrant steam and cupping my hands around the piping hot ceramic. I loved the soup for the flavor that so pleased my tongue and the warmth that spread through my belly as I ate it. But also, I loved the soup because it always came with a story about my grandmother. I needed those stories to satisfy a different kind of hunger.
It wasn't until I was grown up that I realized these recipes were born of want. They had so little then. My grandmother wrote letters to my uncles in Korea, expressing her worry. It was only to them, thousands of miles away, that she felt safe pouring out her fears. Nobody else would ever know that she sometimes had no idea where the next meal was coming from.
When things were really bad she would take some milk, or cream if they had it, some butter, potato, a bit of onion, some salt and pepper, and fashion into a delicious and satisying meal. Sometimes, if there was some ham or bacon, she added that as well. But usually, it was just the basics.
For my grandmother, the potato soup was a measure of desperation; a barometer of need. The potato soup was a last resort.
And now I understand...it was for us too.
My childhood was not privileged, and I know there were times that my parents struggled to feed us.
There are meals that I recall less fondly, that I now realize were meant to stretch resources until payday. Goulash. Tuna casserole. Shepherd's Pie. Chicken a la King (made, I'm sure, with canned chicken). I loathed them, and proclaimed my distaste loudly.
One very vivid memory from childhood, is that of my Dad completely blowing his top because my sisters and I were complaining about the Goulash my Mom had left for us to eat while she worked.
My Dad very rarely lost his cool. So that alone left us slack-jawed with astonishment. But when the F word was said, we knew that we had done something very, very bad indeed. I had never heard that word from my Father before. It was shocking. But even more shocking was the fact that instead of comforting us as he would have done any other time, my Dad stalked from the kitchen without taking his glasses, which had been knocked from his face when, swearing, he had flung his hands violently into the air.
We cried as we cleaned up, looking at his glasses sitting there, crooked and splattered with milk.
I realize now that things things must have been very grim at that point in our lives. No food, no money, and three little girls to feed and keep warm through the brutal Wisconsin winter.
We complained about Goulash when we should have been grateful to have anyting at all to eat. Looking back, I want to slap those whiny ungrateful little girls. It's a wonder he didn't. But as a mother I understand...we were just kids. We didn't know anything. And my parents tried hard to keep it that way.
And that...that is why Potato soup was special. It was a myth my mother created, the way her mother had created it for her. We didn't eat it because we had nothing else. Certainly not! We ate it because it was so delicious that it was reserved for very special occasions, which my mother would also invent.
I imagine Clara's folks made Poorman's meal seem like a feast as well. And now her grandson thinks it a special treat when she prepares it for him.
We're not so different, yannow? Not so different from people back then. Not so different from one another.
We all need. And we all perservere.
The human spirit is a truly amazing thing. And it whether it is 1929 or 2009, we will go on.
Thanks to soup. And stories. And mothers.