Princeton, New Jersey. That’s where I was going to meet my significant other and his children for the Princeton-Colgate football game Saturday afternoon. Princeton, his alma mater, has a loyal former-student in him, who respects, donates, and visits.
I spent Friday driving one and a half hours to visit with my mom’s longest and dear friend, Milly who lives in Concordia, a retirement community close to Princeton. If you’ve read my book you will remember her as the young woman who accompanied my mother to the downtown Brooklyn recruitment center where they both signed up to join the Women’s Army Corps (WACs). They were eighteen. In 1942. My mother passed away in 2010 and Milly is now 92.
My eyes well when she opens her front door and I see her. It’s been years but it could have been yesterday. We embrace and I lay my head on her shoulder. She is the closest thing to my mother next to my memories. She is lucid, but her short term memory is fading. Her long term memory, however, is clear as the periwinkle sky as she regales me with stories of she and my mom sneaking friends (including boys) through the front porch window where my mom, aunt and grandparents lived after everyone was asleep because my grandmother watched my mother ‘like a hawk.’ Or my mom and dad’s first apartment, where the light from the basement window came in just below the ceiling. She tells me that my mother had the place set up, with curtains, by the end of the day. I giggle. My children and friends can attest to the fact that I possess the same trait. She walks slowly and unsteadily and I hold her hand or arm as we make our way down the stairs, to the mailbox, into the car.
We eat lunch in a no-frills, deliciously fresh, seafood place minutes from her home. When we return, we snack on red grapes at her kitchen table and scour the New York Times for movies that interest us, discussing any we’ve already seen. I ask if she has any good soup recipes, she is an exceptional cook, and she rattles off one for chicken soup. From memory.
Every kitchen and human being ought to experience the sensory magic and healing properties of homemade chicken soup. I admit my bias because I was lucky enough to have a grandmother and a mother who made warm, fill-the-house-with-good-smelling, mouth-water-tasting, nourishing to the point it cures your ills, soup. I was so delighted with the steamy liquid filled with chicken, vegetables and noodles on chilly nights, that the disturbances of my day fell away like molting skin.
Tonight, I use Milly’s soup recipe as a salve for a past I miss viscerally. As the soup ingredients simmer and combine, a familiar smell suffuses my home. I take measured inhales of the aggregate scent, and an ease overtakes me. A home, a smell, a memory for the ages.