Soup warms the soul all the way through, from the boiling of the bones and herbs to make thick sticky stock to the ladeling of steaming hot goodness into a bowl, soon to rest like a heating pad in your lap.
Soup seemed like the only justifiable meal to make for Lenore, the 90-something-year-old lady living just two doors towards the school from our house. Four or five years ago, when we first moved to this rented bungalow, we saw the stacks of big boxes in the front sun porch and assuming the lady was moving out. But the boxes never budged, and Lenore only showed herself on a shuffle to a cab sharred by Adeline, the 90-something-year-old who lived between us.
Adeline sold the house a couple years ago to the sweetest lady couple we could ever imagine, and Dave and I agreed. We love our neighbors, both sides and across the street. If we could be lucky enough to buy Lenore’s house, despite the fact that it would be our third address on East Mifflin Street in Madison, we would be sure to live a wonderful life for years and years. I think our neighbors agreed.
Our common neighbors shared news and stories back and forth, and supposedly Lenore asked for my name and number, “just in case” because she started to feel unsafe in her own home alone. But Lenore and I never saw each other, we never met.
Finally I told my friends, I’m making her food, this weekend, and I’m introducing myself. She surely is getting on in years, and the neighbors say her health is declining. I might not have much time left to meet this sweet mysterious lady.
So I made soup. Saturday I boiled two chicken carcasses with celery and carrots and herbs all day. Sunday I doubled a bacon potato soup recipe and sent our home into aroma heaven.
Five small jars received her soup, topped off with thick bacon bits and tiny chive confetti by 3 PM. As I walked the five hot jars to Lenore’s a spritely blue-eyed silver haired middle-aged lady backed out of Lenore’s driveway. Her Subaru wagon was filled to the max with boxes. She opened her window and said, “I just left her, so she should be up. I’ll watch to be sure she opens the door. If she doesn’t, I’ll call her for you.”
As soon as I spun around Lenore stood at her door with her walker, holding the door open for me. She didn’t even know who I was but she already smiled from ear to ear. As soon as I shook her hand and announced, “I made some soup and brought you some,” her big ashen face beamed with delight. I put one jar in her large cold hands and she giggled, “Oh! They are still warm! Come in! Come in!”
It took five minutes of assessment to see what I feared, watching the house slowly wither away before our eyes from the outside- it was even worse inside. Plaster cracked and leaned away from the walls, as if these large pieces were trying to retire for good. Their job had been exhausted for decades. The carpeting, like much shag from the late sixties, stubbornly clutched every smell that had ever entered the house and fermented it with pride. Suspiciously arranged tiny piles of dirt sat under her bed, as if she weren’t the only one living in that house quietly and relatively unseen for years and years.
“I moved in this house when I was two,” Lenore told me. “I lived in California for twenty years, thirty years, no, forty-years, well, thirty-nine years. I lived in California for thirty-nine years at one time, but all the rest of my life I lived in this house. I went to school at Emerson over there. I went to East over here and came home every day for lunch.”
The kitchen boasted a century old porcelain Kohler sink, now sadly caked with minerals on one side, and chipped and cracked at the other. The tiny stove looked like a vintage gas range with the bread warmer and oven compartments. You could just imagine the fifties-wife cooking in heals in her 3/4-length belted dress and eyelet lace-trimmed apron. The 70’s tan refrigerator gave me a low growl, like an unsure dog backed into the corner as Lenore announced, “The sink is old. The stove and refrigerator are new.”
Every room required careful feline physicality to approach without distrurbing piles of boxes, furniture stacked with stuff and dust. The windows glared at me as if to say, “Don’t you dare attempt to remove these walls of things. We can’t handle this winter alone.”
“My father made the windows, even the ones for the, the uh, that…” she pointed to the sun porch that had been obviously abandoned for who knows how long. I helped her.
“Ah yes, the porch. He made those glass doors.”
She smiled. “It’s a fixer-upper,” she chuckled. “But everything works! Well, except the furnace. I guess I need a new furnace, but the new owners can deal with that.”
She is moving on Thursday and has a lady coming evey day to pack and take away boxes of stuff, which will happen for weeks after Lenore has moved to her apartment on the West Side. Every time Lenore mentioned her new apartment, she referrred to it as “that place at…” and then she’d rattle off the address. It was not home. I could feel the pain in her chest and she tried to take deep breaths and shake off the sadness.
“So? Will you tak to your husband about buying the house?”
“The real estate lady says she’ll list it for $179,900!” She smiled and had to control her breath from all of the butterflies fluttering in her gut. She looked like she already won the lottery.
“No,” I said. “It’s quite a bit out of our price range, for a house that needs so much work.” I could already hear Dave and me swearing as we found more hidden problems while replacing the roof, insulation, windows, flooring, the everything.
“You talk to him,” She urged.
A couple hours later Lenore called to tell me that she loved the soup. It tasted “SO good,” but she will soon go to bed, “So tell your husband not to come over today to look at the house. He can come over another time.”
“I’m glad you like the soup Lenore. And I enjoyed meeting you so much. We will not be buying the house, but as I said before, we can help you in any way. Calling to tell me you love the soup means a lot to me.”
I’d make her more too. I should have years ago when Adeline moved away. But I’ll have more neighbors, young and old, and those neighbors should get soup too. Soup warms the soul, in any kind of house.