“My lips hurt” a young Colin, one of our newer hires rubbing his thumb across his lips and giving us all a scrunched face full of discomfort. Nice kid young Colin, a sweet….almost too, disposition very eager to help and feel a part of the shop and what it is we do there. He handles shipping and general stocking duties part time for us while he tries to finish his degree at Cal State Long Beach. Colin and my son are the exact same age, Jeremy might have a couple months on him but to meet them you would swear there was easily a five year difference. Not sure why that is, I mean other than the fact that Jeremy moved his ass all the way across the country where he was out of reach, both good and bad, of his family and was pretty much on his own. That or it’s simply because Jeremy is my smart ass offspring but either way, Colin just comes off a touch more…in need of help as it were.
The sweetly scrunched face caused me to grab my backpack and plunge my pudgy paw deep into the cavernous belly of my, “Purse” fingers brushing over each crinkled receipt, dog-eared business card, dried out pen and wad of tissue like tiny little honing devices. Rummage, rummage, grunt and dig about until my fingers stopped upon the object they were looking for. I snagged a piece of tissue paper, gave the blue tube of medicated lip goo a crank before giving the tip a samurai like swipe. My cooties removed I extended my hand, little tube pointing in his direction to young Colin. “Here. Use your finger…but it should help” I said my own face now scrunched as I tried, fruitlessly, to act like I just so happened to have extra, didn’t care but was sick of looking at his sad face or whatever like attitude would assure him, or anyone else watching for that matter, that I was badass bothered by the whining rather than actually giving a shit. Sigh….
“Soup and sandwiches” hearing this when I was young as a response to, “What’s for dinner?” was one of those red flags. Soup and sandwiches meant we were running really low on cash and our dinner options were limited. For me the soup and sandwich option was a million miles away from pancakes and zero options so, well it was kind of a treat in a way. When I was about three my mother nicknamed me Mouse, this moniker was given not only for the stealthy way I moved about and spoke very little, it was for my nearly un-holy love of cheese. Had this cheese sickness since like birth so soup and sandwich night meant not only a warm bowl of brothy stuff, it meant a buttery rich sandwich of melted cheese…aka, fucking bliss.
Happened the same way each time, my mother would come in, plastic bags draped across her arms and so loaded with goods it caused the thick flesh of her forearms to look like that weird cranberry sauce that you get out by cutting the ends off each side of the can before popping the gelatinous cylinder out onto a plate where it sits all swollen and riddled with creepy ridges. “So…what kind of soup did you get?” I would ask, always worried and full of skepticism. “Tomato of course” she would say with a self-satisfied grin as she unloaded the bags onto the counter and waited. Hated tomato soup, like with a passion and for some reason this tiny factiod was one of my mother’s weapons. She loved torturing me with the very idea of that weird pink soup swimming around in a bowl before me. She would set the can into the automatic can opener, (dude, remember those?! Does anyone still have one? To this day the sound of that werrr-rrrrurrr reminds me of calling the cat for her dinner) the lifting of the metal arm, the clicky thud as the fiercely tiny blade saw cut through the tin and freed our gross pink goo from its entrapment. My mother’s smirk as she sashayed smugly from the counter where the can opener resided to the counter beneath the cupboards that housed the pans. Torture….
“Can you hold on for a second?’ me putting my husband on hold during his customary, “What’s for dinner?” call. I had been watching a woman, older, blonde, thin and stylish tooling around our red tag section. Picking things up, studying them, spending lots of time considering them before plunking them into her red hand-held basket or depositing them back onto the paper covered sale tables. I noticed her first because it’s my job to notice anyone in the store, second for her Midwestern feel…warm eyes and understated presence but it was her struggle with a nagging cough that kept me paying attention. As someone recovering from that bullshit my own self I’ve been very conscientious of others suffering and this poor lady, she was spiraling.
Once again in my backpack of a purse I found the big bag of Vick’s Honey Lemon drops that had been my saving grace just last week and well aware of the red blinky light that was my husband waiting for dinner directions/suggestions I snuck up all mouse like on the coughing lady, wide open bag of drops aimed in her direction. “Um, can I offer you a cough drop?” my voice a little sketchy as I realized how odd this might look. “It’s just the temperature change, its cold in here and it starts the nasal drip”…yeah, more info than I needed but I was sort of asking for it foisting drops on her and all. I stood still, bag poised in my hands like I was fucking Vanna White as if I needed to sell these to her I began to feel a tad irritated before suggesting that she maybe take a couple for later. Who was she kidding? That woman was three coughs away from gagging and I was just trying to help….argh. Marched my ass back to my call, “Soup and sandwiches” my answer to the “what’s for dinner?” question.
“Sam, why don’t you like this soup?” my mother spinning a can of whole milk into her pink chunky, texturally unsound glop that took far too long, in my young estimation, to break apart and become one gagtastic mass of sweet pink broth unsuitable for ingestion. “Its gross mom and I hate it” I would answer each and every time. She knew it and being the woman, the mother she was, flaws and mistakes notwithstanding, I would inevitably find a can of my favorite soup, (most often chicken noodle, Campbell’s, although I did have a brief but tumultuous affair with bean and bacon also from Campbell’s, it was chicken noodle that owned my soul and consistently bubbled away side by side with my mother’s creepy pink junk) in the pantry waiting for me. My breathing just a little more reasoned as I stuck my own can of soup on the “werrr-ruuurrrr” opening machine, bent down to pet the cat that came running every time we ran that blasted kitchen tool and flipped melty sandwiches full of gooey cheese in a frying pan bigger than my head. The hiss of melted butter as it bubbled against porous sour dough bread and the sexy as fuck aroma of melted cheddar cheese alerting me that it was indeed time to flip those packets of sublimity over to get toasty and browned on the other side. The smell of browning bread in melted butter and the sound of my mother’s thick, milk enhanced soup bubbling away on the stove top......comforting for me in a way that I’m just beginning to figure out.
My day coming to a close at the store I made my way to the front to shut down my computer and get ready to head home. As I turned right at the Champagne racks I saw her again, blonde coughing lady only this time, no cough. “That helped so much. Wiped it right away!” she effused in my direction with a big grin and a look in her eye a bunch more welcoming than when I had approached her twenty minutes before. She appreciated the gesture and knew I brought her the drops out of concern and mutual understanding of just how fucking irritating that nagging, sometimes gagging, cough can be. I smiled back and gave her a nod before grabbing the helpful bag of goodies that was my purse that day and began my trek home.
For the first time in weeks the inside of my car didn’t feel like an icebox when I climbed in it. No, in fact it was a tad warm from the nearly eighty degree day we had and about halfway home I found myself reaching for the button to roll my window down a little and that was when it hit me, a big, chest-filling blast of oyster shells….the ocean, I could smell the ocean wafting into the belly of my car and it was filling me with warm shivers and memories so delightful it made my eyes fill with tears. First time in months I had taken that smell in and much like a Christmas tree, baking cookies and certain colognes that smell is more than a smell, it’s a feeling. Cranked my music up just a little louder, rested my head against the seatback and took in aromatic spoonfuls of nostalgia.
“What kind of soup are you making?” my husband asked after I dropped off my bag and made my way to the kitchen and before I knew it the words came spilling from my mouth, “tomato of course”. Tomato soup?! What the hell? I’m the chicken soup lady, my dudes love my homemade chicken soup, where was I going with this tomato nonsense and why that soup now? Had no idea but began plucking things from my pantry and fridge. Canned San Marzano tomatoes, bacon, shallots, red pepper flakes, garlic, hunks of Pepper Jack and Fontina cheeses. All items splayed upon the counter I settled comfortably into cook mode…on auto pilot and with my own grinning sachet hip swinging dance thingie.
One can of tomatoes drained, dusted with dried thyme and set in the oven to roast, thick cut bacon in the frying pan spitting and hissing, causing me to poke at it with my tongs while muttering, “Oh settle down you” before taking the crispy strips from the “bacon juice” (shhh sounds classier than fat doesn’t it. Let a girl dream dammit) and resting them upon quilted bits of paper towel to drain. Grilled cheese is a fantastically perfect food in my world but for my husband dinner isn’t dinner unless an animal has been sacrificed, so bacon and Pepper Jack grilled cheese sandwiches it would be. Another can of tomatoes in the blender with a handful of cilantro leaves, a half palm full of salt, two moist chipotle and several cranks of black pepper, a quick whirl and there it sat as I sautéed thin slices of shallot, garlic and pepper flakes in bacon juice. The house swimming with the smell of roasting veggies, thyme and bacon my heart wide open and just then I hear it…my wee boyfriend’s laugh as he and his brother play in their living room across the way from my open window. The day warm enough for their mom to leave the front door and most the windows open. Each high pitched cackle, tummy jiggling guffaw and deeply felt chortle pinging against my winter worn shell, chinking it off in in little pieces. Too long, it has been too long since I heard that steady stream of heart string pulling laughter.
I left my pot of sweetly spiced, pureed tomatoes to bubble as I stood on my tippy toes and reached for a wine glass. Lips still burning a bit from the severity of spice in the soon to be soup I dug about in my cooler for a wine I thought might best handle my homey meal of melty cheese and bacon sandwiches and wickedly spicy soup. Passed by the sparkling wines knowing that the kind of heat my soup was bringing was just going to make those bubbles feel ten times bigger and aggressively stinging. White Burgundy had no place with its lavish body and vanilla rich oak and Sancerre or Loire Sauvignon Blanc just sounded mean. I had nearly given up and settled on some lightly hoppy beer but my eyes fell upon just the wine I was aching for, Vouvray.
Played mother all day at the store, was enraptured by the smell of my beloved ocean on my way home, walked in to cook and feed my family and found myself melting like the butter in my pans as I heard Tyler and Drew’s laughter filter across the patch of grass that separates our front doors and fall upon my waiting ears and way the hell wide open heart. Mother. I was thinking of mine, remembering one of her least favorite, favorite meals and wearing the beaming badge of my own motherhood, proudly. No longer even trying that mothering thing just part of who I am and what makes and moves me. Not something I ever really thought about or strived for but now it is so woven into my every fiber that the mom trigger often reacts way before I even have time to think. This might be something I would cringe or shudder about….if it didn’t make me feel so damn proud. My mother hurt me, was cruel and selfish at times but she also taught me to laugh, know when I’m being fucked with and how to love and appreciate simple but beautifully prepared honest food. She was an example of both the woman I never wanted to be and the woman I find myself being now. Far, way fucking far, from perfect but honest, in love with the things I surround myself with, still searching and aching for more….
When I opted to make that soup and reached for that wine it was done unintentionally but as I poured myself a tall glass of off dry, mineral-rich, sexily mushroom smelling wine I flashed on the last time my mother and I laughed, like Tyler and Drew, tummy splitting laughed together….she was in the same room I was sitting in, feet tucked in under her large frame on my couch, body, as always, awkward and posed but her laugh, her uncontrollable, too much Vouvray laugh, well it was genuine and the very thought of hearing it again filled my chest with laughter and eyes with tears. The last night we laughed like that together was here in my home and over a bottle of Fontainerie Vouvray Demi-Sec….I only wish I had made her
Tomato soup, of course.