Turkey Soup: A Bowlful of Memories

Written on by Kathryn Lerro

This year, over the course of the 9 days following Thanksgiving, I ate 13 large bowls of homemade turkey soup. I ate it for lunch every day and I also ate it for dinner on the evenings when my husband was at work. I actually would have eaten it a few more times, but I’d already frozen what I didn’t think we’d use quickly and I resisted thawing it by telling myself: enough is enough!  After about the 10th bowl I jokingly told Bill that if he looked over to my side of the bed the following morning and saw a gigantic bowl of turkey soup in my place, he should not be alarmed: it would just be me, having fulfilled the old adage, “You are what you eat.”

I can’t think of any other meal I would willingly and happily eat that many times in a row, and I found myself wondering why I never get tired of it. It was pretty easy to figure out. It can only be because I miss my mother, and turkey soup—both making it and eating it—brings back some of my fondest memories of her.

When I was growing up, our family spent every Thanksgiving with relatives in Baltimore, which meant no turkey leftovers at our house. So my mother roasted a turkey alongside our traditional roast beef on Christmas: I think she only did this so she’d be able to make soup the next day. My mom was known for making a variety of delicious soups, and people often went out of their way to get some. One year, one of my dad’s sisters refused to leave on Christmas night until she’d had a bowl of turkey soup. So my mother, who had been cooking all day, made soup at 9 pm so my aunt would finally go home! (My mom wasn’t too happy about it at the time, but she often laughed about it later.)

My mother was a hugger. She was a tall, ample woman and though I never thought of her as being fat, she was soft, which made her hugs warm and enveloping. (And yes, I am tearing up a little as I write this!) She always wore full skirts and low heels, and often tied on an apron when she cooked. I can envision her now, at the stove in our kitchen with the row of windows looking out at the woods beyond. As the soup-making progressed, those windows would steam up, making the kitchen feel cozy and closed-in. Soup day was usually a day when we didn’t have to go anywhere: a day perfect for hours spent sitting at the kitchen table, just enjoying each other’s company and conversation, and sometimes a jigsaw puzzle.

I don’t know if my mother especially liked cooking in general, but when she was making soup she seemed so content, like she was in her zone. There was never a recipe; she made soup by feel and we often joked that she had the “soup gene.” She just knew what ingredients wanted to be added to the pot, and she complied.

I like making soup, too. I don’t know if my soups are as good as my mother’s, but I get the same sense of pleasure from soup-making that she seemed to. I think, deep down, I somehow feel that part of her is with me as I throw this and that into the pot. And I especially think of her and feel her presence when I put a few cans of creamed corn into the turkey broth. (There you have it—my mother’s turkey soup secret ingredient!)

Maybe the reason my mother seemed so content when making soup was because it made her feel close to her own mother. I wish I’d thought to ask if my grandmother had the soup gene too—if perhaps that’s where my mother got it. I guess I’ll never know for sure.

I hope I’ll pass something like this on to my own daughters—some tradition they’ll enjoy because it makes them feel close to me when I’m not here anymore. Maybe for them it will also be soup making, or perhaps it will be decorating the front window, or writing little stories about their thoughts on life (or their memories of me!).

I’ll be wondering, as my family gathers to celebrate the holidays in these next few weeks: wondering what facets of me my girls will carry into the future and pass along to their own children. (I would ask them, but somehow I don’t think they’ll know just yet.)

In closing, I leave you with my most heartfelt holiday wishes—

May you be surrounded by people you love, may you generously give each other the gifts of time and presence, and may you be mindful of the simple moments, because I can promise you this—they are where the sweetest, most lasting memories are made.

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