Chicken Soup from the Heart

Chicken Soup from the Heart

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Mom

Chicken Soup from the Heart

Leftovers in their less visible form are called memories. Stored in the refrigerator of the mind and the cupboard of the heart.
~Thomas Fuller

The icy February wind cut a path across the cemetery and bore a hole straight through my heart. As we turned away from the grave and headed back toward the car, snowflakes began to flutter down around us. Mom hated the cold but we left her behind, under a blanket of snow. I was powerless to reverse the weather, as I was powerless to reverse the cancer that had taken her from me in the first place. Hours after we were home, a frosty wind still chilled my heart. How would I ever replace the warmth of my mother’s love? She was gone, and it was gone with her.

Over the next week, I drove back and forth from Mom’s apartment sorting and distributing her belongings. On the last day of her lease, I brought a picnic cooler with me into which I deposited the contents of her freezer. At the end of the day, I closed the door on her apartment, turned in the keys at the front desk and started down the path of my life that would never again lead me to Mom’s front door. I cried all the way home.

The dismal winter days that followed found me navigating on autopilot. I shuttled back and forth from work, muddling through tasks and daily chores with little enthusiasm for any of it. The endless loop of “Mom” tape that played over and over in my head distracted me from being able to concentrate on anything but my aching heart and how empty my life was without her.

When I woke up one Saturday morning with the sniffles and a fever, it seemed quite appropriate to be just as miserable physically as I was in my heart. Thank goodness I had the whole weekend to pull the covers up over my head and lock out my husband, my friends and anyone else in the world waiting for me to emerge from the cloud of grief that had swallowed me whole.

On Sunday afternoon before my husband left to do the food shopping, he mentioned that there was a pot of warm soup on the stove should my appetite return before he did. As I ventured down to the kitchen, the scent of Mom’s legendary chicken soup got stronger with every step I took. This broth was renowned for working wonders on the common cold. But how could this be? Sure enough though, I lifted the lid on the pot and Mom’s steamy chicken soup all but called my name.

I breathed in deeply, allowing it to penetrate every pore. Then I walked over to the sink and spied the empty container with a label marked, “Chicken Soup—January,” in Mom’s shaky handwriting. It was probably the last batch she made. I must have brought it home in the cooler the day I emptied her freezer.

Sitting at the kitchen table, I savored every drop of the broth and left all the wide egg noodles to the last. Then I placed a small dollop of butter on top of the noodles and, as it started to melt, I gently coaxed it through the bowl, watching it glisten on each noodle and anticipating the goodness of every bite.

My mother took no shortcuts when it came to feeding her family and everything we ate was always made from scratch. Though I grew to have great appreciation for her kitchen skills, I remember as a child begging her to let me have a thermos full of canned soup and maybe some apple sauce from a jar, because that’s what I saw all the other kids pull out of their lunch boxes at school. Mom would roll her eyes and say, “Not while there is breath in my body,” with a Katharine Hepburn kind of dramatic flair and an “absolutely not” tone in her voice.

When I finished the last noodle, I looked over at the stove and imagined Mom standing there stirring the pot and adding the carrots and celery as I had watched her do so many times in my life. Then I noticed something. I noticed that I was warm and full of chicken soup and, of all things, I was smiling—something I hadn’t done since the cancer word was uttered only ninety-nine days before she passed away.

“Not while there’s breath in my body.” Those words replayed in my head several times until, finally, I laughed out loud. Leave it to my mother to find a way to care for me long after breath had left her body forever. For the next six months or so, whenever I was most lonely for Mom, I would slip a surprise package out of the freezer, heat it up, and bask in the pleasure of one of her homemade specialties. Every bite made me stronger and encouraged my appetite for the joy of living.

Mom is gone five years now, but her famous soup lives on. It was just last week that I finally got the courage to try and reproduce that delicious taste. As I gathered the ingredients, I reached for the bay leaves, remembering how Mom insisted this was the item that set her chicken soup heads above the rest. “Don’t be shy with the bay leaves,” she would say. “Add three or four good-sized leaves to the pot. That’s what gives it all the good flavor.” Bay leaves do give it a distinctive flavor, but they also impart an unmistakably delicious aroma that beckons anyone nearby.

My memories of all the wonderful meals we shared around Mom’s kitchen table kept me company as I chopped the carrots and onions and placed them into the pot with the chicken. Soon after the broth began to simmer, the comforting and familiar scent of homemade chicken soup filled my own kitchen and I could hardly wait to serve it.

When we sat down to supper, I ladled the soup into a bowl for my husband and passed a warm, crusty loaf of bread across the table to him. After one taste, he dropped the spoon into his bowl and said, “Please don’t tell me I’m eating soup that’s been in the freezer for five years.” Oh, how I laughed when he said it, but I glowed with pride on the inside. Just before I went to sleep that night, I whispered a thank you to Mom for tucking safely into my heart, not only the recipe for her delicious chicken soup, but also the lasting memory of her enduring love.

~Annmarie B. Tait

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners