I remember being a kid of ten or eleven in search of my grandfather’s signature iced tea. I got myself a big cup, filled it with ice, took the pitcher off the top shelf and poured. But what came out wasn’t sweet tea. It was a thick brown liquid with chunks of meat in it.I almost dropped the cup on the floor. I thought it was disgusting. But that was only because I’d never had his turkey soup. Little did I know that I would only get one more chance to experience the greatness that that soup was. He passed away less than two years later.
More than 20 years after that moment, on the verge of midnight, I am adding what’s left of the once 22-pound Thanksgiving bird to a lobster pot. I fill it with cold water. I dice yellow onions and garlic, fresh basil, crushed bay leaves, sea salt, black pepper, a generous amount of curry and add them it all to the brew. I put the pot under a medium heat, cover it, and wait.
In 40 minutes the smell climbs through the whole house. The heat squeezes the flavor from the marrow in every bone and every piece of gristle. The meat gets so moist that it peels off into the liquid. The bones separate within the midst of the bubbling goodness. It’s been a complicated night, but the memories melt away with the aroma. I am a little boy watching my father’s father at the stove in nothing but a white tee and his boxers.
I didn’t know at the time that he’d been cooking for his whole life, that it had been he who fed his brother and sister while my great grandma did what she had to to keep a roof over their heads. The pots seemed so big back then, so powerful and under a control my little hands could never muster. And yet here I am doing it for myself, thousands of miles and years away from that house on Adrian Street where my education began.
Of all the folks I’ve known that have passed on, I think I miss him the most. Though he was by no means a perfect man, he was a gracious host to all that came through his doors. A child of The Depression there was always food in his house. His boys from the old neighborhood would come through for a drink and a smoke, proud that they’d been successful enough to have homes of their own with yard and grills and ranges with warmers at the top. Success was getting a new car every few years or putting a jungle gym in the backyard for me, his only grandson.
As the soup boils it becomes very close to the color of that liquid I accidentally poured into that cup. Mine is a little lighter, more yellow, because of the curry. But I’m proud to even come close to the greatness that was, and to have such a great memory to build upon.
An hour later I take the pot off simmer, put a pad in the fridge and sit the pot on top. This should hold us until the cavalry arrives. Pay day is soon come. Until then we make do. I turn the light out in my kitchen and head for my bed, drifting off with the aroma of the past, present and future swimming through my skull.