O Lord, If my heaven-based mom visited, I know what she’d do, first thing: hug me. Then wash my windows. Because Mom kept her windows like You kept her soul: transparent, shining, reflecting the Son at every opportunity. OMG, I, on the other hand, could use a little extra spiritual and literal Windex!
What fragrance sends you back to childhood?
The scent of bubbling soup time-travels me to my mother’s kitchen. Cold and wet after slogging home from school, I filled nose and soul with her soup’s warm promise that I’d soon fill my empty stomach.
Mom would’ve agreed with Molière, a seventeenth-century French playwright: “I live on good soup, not on fine words.”
Whether Molière wrote about soup, creative minds from centuries past have told many versions of a European folktale, “Stone Soup.” What modern child hasn’t heard how a hungry traveler(s), using empty kettle and stone, persuaded stingy villagers to share? Books, magazines, movies, songs and even software have borrowed the concept (though personally, I’d rather eat the soup.)
Another classic, Alice in Wonderland, features a soup song that’s puzzled me since childhood. Why would the Mock Turtle — obviously a turtle himself — laud turtle soup as “beau—yootiful soup”? If cannibals were boiling me in a pot, I would not sing.
Enough literary commentary.
How do you like your soup temperature-wise? Like model Chrissy Teigen, I “need my soup to be crazy hot.”
My husband has ducked under many a restaurant table when I’ve sent lukewarm soup back to the kitchen. He says nothing, but I read his mind: If I had to marry a hot-soup fanatic, why not Chrissy, instead?
Too late for you, bud.
Enough marriage commentary.
Back to soup temperature. Enthusiasts refer to cold concoctions as gazpacho, vichyssoise or Polish chlodnik, made with beets and yogurt. Fine. Just do not call them soup. When thermometers reach 90 degrees, hand me a Popsicle® instead.
Not that I diss foreign soups. For centuries, Thai curry, Portuguese caldo verde (potatoes, kale and sausage) and North African squash soup have nourished thousands. Most of the world, though, might question a remote Japanese tribe’s recipe that includes bananas, coffee and dirt.
Still, soup brings humans together. Mom understood this as she added more potatoes or broth to feed our ravenous family, lonely parishioners, and the occasional, hungry stranger.
Author Kate DiCamillo said, “There ain’t no point in making soup unless others eat it. Soup needs another mouth to taste it, another heart to be warmed by it.”
Mom, Kate isn’t the only one who got it right.
You cooked hundreds of kettles of beau—yootiful, beau—yootiful soup.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite soup?
My five-year-old fingers stretched across the keys of our church sanctuary’s piano.
My mom, who’d never taken lessons, played for services. The keys sang lovely songs she’d absorbed after one hearing. Soon, she played them in any key.
The piano would do musical magic for me, too.
Our family, preparing for a mission trip, lived in our church’s two back rooms. We children were forbidden to touch the church’s unlocked instruments.
My brother Ned explored the organ’s mysterious tubes and wires.
The baby grand’s rich tones drew me. Besides, fooling with the organ warranted worse punishment.
But keys rarely cooperated when I played. Sometimes, a strand of melody escaped the chaos. But the piano did not love me.
Later, I realized that before confronting us, Mom listened. Her belief in our budding talent later led to Old Camo’s appearance in our sparsely furnished living room.
I’ve never seen such a piano before or since. Gray-and-white camo vinyl covered it. Metal studs outlined its silhouette. No wonder we could afford it. Still, I fell in love.
My fumblings drove my family to the same sentiment as George Bernard Shaw, music critic as well as playwright. He said, “Nothing soothes me more after a long and maddening course of pianoforte recitals than to sit and have my teeth drilled.”
But I recognized more and more melodies. My excitement grew … until lessons sapped the magic.
Mom encouraged practice, then bribed, then chained me to the bench, hoping I would make friends with written notes. After four years, I continued to balk. She gave up.
Still, I played for church youth meetings. My peers dove for cover, but melodies and harmonies eventually found my hands. I even played the sanctuary piano (though neither Ned nor I crawled inside the organ anymore.)
Ned, also a piano practice delinquent, nevertheless worked for a piano craftsman. After Old Camo collapsed, teenaged Ned rebuilt a baby grand for Mom.
I missed it after I married. No money for pianos. Given our fabulous $97.50-per-month studio apartment, we’d have had to sleep on the bench.
We were skinny, but not that skinny.
After graduation, a new spinet graced our living room. Despite toddler abuse, teeth-gritting kids’ practices, and my thumping, it remains a monument to the magic.
As is our daughter. Like her mother and grandmother, she often ignores little black notes and discovers her own songs.
Mom was, too. Battling dementia, she played what Dad called his “dinner music” while he cooked.
“Beautiful,” Dad told her.
Though Mom didn’t remember repeating the same song seven times, her fingers and her spirit found their way to lovely music.
The magic triumphed again.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Is piano music magic for you?
This post first appeared on March 16, 2016.
As I walk past our nearby elementary school, I search for the first fuzzy yellow dandelions. Although I want them out of my yard, deep in my grown-up heart, I still like them.
As a six-year-old, I heard God sprinkled dandelions on lawns like manna. Sometimes, He turned them to gold during the night. The financial possibilities made it worth a try.
The gold coin story did not pan out, but I still welcomed dandelions. Softer than my baby brother’s hair, they dotted the gray-brown Indiana landscape, reminding me better than any catechism that God loves color.
I showered my mother with bouquets. She never turned them down.
One evening Mama surprised my siblings and me. We would pick dandelions for supper! I did not realize they were good to eat. Or that our old refrigerator was empty. Mama acted as if we were going on a picnic.
“These look good.” She bent and nipped off leaves.
Grown-ups rarely made sense. “Aren’t we going to eat the flowers?”
“No. Some people make wine with them, but we’re eating just the greens.”
“Can’t we make wine?”
Mama’s eyebrows rose. “Probably not a good idea.”
My pastor father’s congregation might not take kindly to a bootleg wine-making operation in the church basement.
My seven-year-old brother grabbed the big greens first.
“Thank you.” Mama shook dirt from our offerings. “But little ones are best.”
Ha! My spindly greens topped his!
I asked, “What do cooked dandelions taste like?”
I’d never eaten spinach. But on TV, Popeye’s spinach helped him clobber the bad guys!
Maybe dandelions possessed the same magic. I insisted on a big bowl for supper. Muscles would pop out on my skinny arms. I would teach Kevin, the mouthy kid across the alley, some manners!
I took my first bite.
Maybe we should have made wine.
Though I gulped several spoonfuls, I didn’t hear Popeye’s happy music. My arms still looked like plucked chicken wings. Maybe if the dandelions had come from a can instead of the churchyard, the spell might have worked.
Decades later, dandelion greens, no longer a dubious alternative to going hungry, are chopped, pickled and curried in hundreds of international recipes.
I take home the fresh, green pile I’ve gathered. When I find the right recipe, I’ll dine on four-star fare for lunch. My personal skeptic insists I’ll be eating weeds. Ignoring her, I search the Internet for recipes.
Who knows? Chopped in my repent-after-the-holidays salad, dandelions might make me as skinny as Olive Oyl.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: Do you have a favorite dandelion recipe?
This post first appeared on January 13, 2016.
We Midwesterners share a rich heritage of blizzard stories. Deprived tropics dwellers can’t appreciate our anticipation when The Weather Channel threatens wild winds, arctic cold and snow up the wazoo. Nor do they understand the joy of swapping lies — er, stories — of bravery amid Snowmageddon. A lifetime Hoosier, I have plenty to share.
A preschooler during my first blizzard, I recall my mother’s positive thinking. Despite three days in a two-room apartment with three little ones, she described the trees as “chocolate with white icing.” The Frosty we built resembled a malnourished alien, but we waved at him from our window. It seemed a friendly blizzard.
The second blizzard wasn’t. Winds howled like wolves, savaging electricity for several days. Cupboards emptied. Fortunately, shivering neighbors brought groceries when they came to enjoy our gas heat. Thirteen shared our three-bedroom, one-bathroom house. Survivor had nothing on us.
But we nine kids — playing infinite games of Monopoly, Candy Land, and the unofficial but essential Freak the Grown-ups — considered it fun. Our parents, with extended therapy and medication, finally recovered.
A young married couple when the Big One hit in 1978, our car refused to navigate three-foot drifts. My medical student husband hiked to a police station, catching a ride to a hospital. For three days, he, another student, and a young resident physician — aided by stranded visitors — cared for little patients on a pediatric wing.
Meanwhile, I baked bread. A nearby fellow medical student wife, whose husband also was missing in action, helped eat it. Walking home, I foundered in a sea of snow-covered landmarks. Only a faint traffic signal in ghostly darkness sent me the right direction. Then a tall shadow blocked my way.
Gulp. The only rapist crazy enough to be out in this?
“How’s it goin’?” he rasped.
“F-f-fine.” I squeaked.
He passed by. I slogged home. When the snow finally stopped, my husband appeared, fell over like a tree and slept.
Not content with that harrowing weather, we moved north near South Bend, Indiana, where blizzard stories abound even more than blizzards. Babies and emergencies ignored storm warnings, expecting my doctor husband to show up. How rude.
School snow days brought hungry hoards incapable of studying algebra, but well able to conduct snow wars outside our house. Once, I was trapped with snow-dueling middle schoolers, teens armed with boom boxes, and soon-to-be-separated college sweethearts — along with remodelers who braved the storm to sledgehammer walls.
Blizzard days two decades later prove far less traumatic, but can stop our lives cold. Yet even if I must search for leftover Christmas candles to light my longhand efforts, I’ll do my usual January thing: tell blizzard stories.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite Snowmageddon tale?
A cushy chair faces a wall. A rear-paralyzing seat looks toward a captivating view.
I always choose the latter.
My brain, tethered to computer screens for hours, needs one-minute vacations — or five-minute — or fifteen-minute bits of visual refreshment to help me remember my name by day’s end.
Even my claustrophobia bows to passion for a view. When we moved, my husband (who could work in an appliance box) raised his eyebrows when I selected the smallest bedroom for my office: “You’ll run out of space.”
But I couldn’t see out the larger rooms’ high windows. My office boasts spectacular views of sunrises and neighbors’ lovely yards.
Soon, though, I ran out of space.
Hubby recalled my New Year’s resolution to shovel out my office.
Why, when my laptop and I could move to a spot with a better view?
This issue has surfaced even in instructions regarding my burial. When I rise on Resurrection Morning, I don’t want to take in the back of a strip mall. Or a first glimpse of fake blue and orange roses or tacky plastic angels on my grave. These views, in my view, should not precede the heavenly ones I anticipate.
I blame my mother for this idiosyncrasy. Mom generally prayed with eyes open — possibly because of five children. But she treasured views, too, riveting her gaze on spreading trees outside; a rare, uncluttered corner; or red tomatoes, green pickles and golden peaches she canned, too amazed at God’s goodness to shut it all out.
Mom’s passion for a view didn’t always lean toward the spiritual. In a restaurant, the hostess had better not seat her facing the kitchen. Or at a window near a dumpster. Or by a wall whose color she disliked (she’d spend the meal discussing what color she’d paint it, and if not restrained, would start the process). As a child, I thought it normal to change tables four times, trailing after Mom with my siblings like ducklings. Dad followed, in stiff, silent protest, as she cased the establishment for the best view.
Still, she remained surprisingly unfussy about some spectacles. As a three-year-old, I recall her sitting in a rickety lawn chair beside our trailer court home, staring.
I said, “Whatcha looking at, Mommy?”
The rusty back of trailer A? The wind-mangled TV aerial on trailer B?
“I’m watching fluffy clouds,” she answered. “God changes them every day. What a wonderful view.”
Even in restaurant quests, Mom never objected when seated near people less attractive, less healthy, or even less polite. Maybe she saw them as God does — more important than the scenery.
I guess it all depends on your point of view.
Your Extraordinary Ordinary: What’s your favorite view? Your least favorite?