The advent of Autumn always leaves me feeling nostalgic.
Long nights, cold days, grey skies - never is there a better time to be among those with whom we say, "These are my people, this is where I belong."
Don't ever underestimate the power and the love that can be found in a simple bowl of soup...
Mama's Soup Pot
By one of my personal heroes: Leo Buscaglia
There are too many treasures in life we take for granted, the worth of which we don't fully realize until they're pointed out to us in some unexpected way.
So it was with Mama's soup pot.
I can still see it sitting on the stove in all its chipped white-and-blue-enameled glory, its contents bubbling, steam rising as if from an active volcano.
When I entered the back porch, the aroma was not only mouthwatering but reassuring.
Whether Mama was standing over the pot stirring with a long wooden spoon or not, I knew I was home.
There was no recipe for her minestrone soup. It was always a work in progress.
It had been so since her girlhood in the Piemonte mountains of northern Italy, where she learned its secret from her nonna (Italian, grandma), who had inherited it from generations of nonnas.
For our large immigrant family, Mama's soup guaranteed we would never go hungry.
It was a simmering symbol of security.
Its recipe was created spontaneously from what was in the kitchen. And we could judge the state of our family economy by its contents.
A thick brew with tomatoes, pasta, beans, carrots, celery, onion, corn and meat indicated things were going well with the Buscaglias.
A watery soup denoted meager times.
And never was food thrown out. That was a sin against God. Everything ended up in the minestrone pot.
Its preparation was sacred to Mama.
To her, cooking was a celebration of God's providence.
Each potato, each shred of chicken was placed in the pot with grateful thanks.
I think of Mama whenever I read Proverbs: "She gets up while it is still dark; she provides food for her family... Her children arise, and call her blessed."
At one time, however, Mama's soup pot became a source of embarrassment to me, for I feared it would cost me a new friend I had made at school.
Sol was a thin, dark-haired boy, and an unusual pal for me because his father was a doctor and they lived in the best part of town.
Often Sol invited me to his home for dinner.
The family had a cook in a white uniform who worked in a kitchen of gleaming chrome and shining utensils.
The food was good, but I found it bland, lacking the heartiness of my home fare served from flame-blackened pots.
Moreover, the atmosphere matched the food. Everything was so formal.
Sol's mother and father were polite, but conversation around the table was stilted and subdued.
And no one hugged! The closest I saw Sol get to his father was a handshake.
In our family, warm hugs were a constant—men, women, boys and girls—and if you didn't kiss your mother, she demanded: "What’s a matter, you sick?"
But at that time in my life, all this was an embarrassment.
I had known Sol would like to eat dinner at our house, but that was the last thing I wanted.
My family was so different.
No other kids had such pots on their stoves, nor did they have a mama whose first action upon seeing you enter the house was to sit you down with a spoon and bowl.
"People in America don't do things like that," I tried to convince Mama.
"Well, I'm not people," was her proud retort. "I'm Rosina. Only crazy people don't want my minestrone."
Finally Sol pointedly asked if he could come to our house.
I had to say yes.
I knew nothing would make Mama happier, but I was in a state of anxiety.
Eating with my family would turn Sol off completely, I believed.
"Mama, why can't we have some American food like hamburgers or fried chicken?" She fixed me with a stony glare and I knew better than to ask again.
The day Sol came over I was a nervous wreck.
Mama and the other nine family members welcomed him with embraces and slaps on the back.
Soon we were sitting at the heavy, deeply stained and ornately carved table that was Papa's pride and joy.
It was covered with an ostentatious, bright oilcloth. And sure enough, after Papa asked the blessing, we were instantly faced with bowls of soup.
"Eh, Sol," Mama asked, "you know what this is?"
"Soup?" Sol responded.
"No soup," Mama said emphatically. "It's minestrone!" She then launched into a long, animated explanation of the power of minestrone: how it cured headaches, colds, heartaches, indigestion, gout and liver ailments.
After feeling Sol's muscles, Mama convinced him that the soup would also make him strong, like the Italian-American hero Charles Atlas. I cringed, convinced that this would be the last time I would ever see my friend Sol.
He would certainly never return to a home with such eccentric people, odd accents and strange food.
But to my amazement, Sol politely finished his bowl and then asked for two more. "I like it a lot," he said, slurping.
When we were saying our good-byes, Sol confided, "You sure have a great family. I wish my mom could cook that good." Then he added, "Boy, are you lucky!"
Lucky? I wondered, as he walked down the street waving and smiling.
Today I know how lucky I was.
I know that the glow Sol experienced at our table was much more than the physical and spiritual warmth of Mama's minestrone.
It was the unalloyed joy of a family table where the real feast was love.
Mama died a long time ago.
Someone turned off the gas under the minestrone pot the day after Mama was buried, and a glorious era passed with the flame.
But the godly love and assurance that bubbled amidst its savory ingredients still warms my heart today.
Sol and I continued our friendship through the years.
I was the best man at his wedding.
Not long ago I visited his house for dinner.
He hugged all his children and they hugged me.
Then his wife brought out steaming bowls of soup. It was chicken soup, thick with vegetables and chunks of meat.
"Hey, Leo," Sol asked, "do you know what this is?"
"Soup?" I responded smiling.
"Soup!" he huffed. "This is chicken soup! Cures colds, headaches, indigestion. Good for your liver!" Sol winked.
I felt I was home again.
I wish everyone, today, a sense of home and a sense of gratitude for what is. All too often we don't see or appreciate things that matter until they're gone...
Here are two soup recipes I really love.
I hope you enjoy...
Split Pea Soup in the Slow Cooker
Soup is one of those magical things that has the power to connect us to feelings of loving kindness and care.
In fact, some of my earliest memories of childhood pleasure involve waiting for the soup bones to come out of my own mother's pot.
The succulence of marrow filled with herb infused broth is most likely one of the early taste memories that has given me my palette for real food.
So it came as no surprise that there is scientific evidence to support the curative effects of chicken soup.
How could there not be?
Especially if the garlicky goodness of it all has been infused with a mother's (or a father's) love.
In all of creation, I can think of nothing so healing as that.
Happy Thursday all!