Good For What Ails You

"You're not at a hundred percent these days, are you?" Paul asks as he pulls apart a turkey carcass. The soup he is in the process of making is meant to bolster me against the cold I am fighting. A true believer in the curative powers of a good pot of chicken, or in this case, turkey soup, he hopes his efforts to pull flesh from bone, cut carrots, shave cabbage and chop onions will be rewarded with an instant and miraculous recovery, Besides, he figures, a hot bowl of hearty soup on a cold rainy winter day is just what the doctor ordered.

Winter seems to have come suddenly this year. It is hard to believe that just a week ago I was harvesting emerald-colored lettuce leaves and dark arugula from my cold frames. Now, though it is raining, the earth on this mountaintop is completely covered with snow. I always forget how beautiful everything looks with snow on it. How miraculously wiped-clean and peaceful, the uninterrupted landscape is. I smell the soup cooking and think about past remedies.

It never seemed to matter what the problem was; Elisabeth could fix it. At least that's what many of the people who traveled to her farm kitchen seemed to think. In fact, one would have thought that she'd advertised free advice, the way people came to have coffee by her woodstove. Of course she never did hang out a shingle. Nor did she ever write down instructions. Her remedies for what ailed you came without prescription. In fact the only substances imbibed were coffee and tea and sometimes a blueberry muffin, a small sandwich, if it was lunchtime, or if you were lucky, some strawberries from the freezer. In those years, it was a pretty constant flow of people to whom she generously listened. I personally can attest to this as that flow often included me.

I am not sure how we came to name what happened over and over again, in her farm kitchen, by the side of her old wood stove. I just know that one day we started linking the curative powers of a good cup of common sense, the direct, see-it-for-what-it-really-is approach, for which Elisabeth is so famous, with those of chicken soup. Once connected, this chicken soup idea stuck. Elisabeth and I laughed about it often. One holiday season, I made Elisabeth a small painting of a pot of soup, on which I wrote the words "Chicken Soup Clinic." That small sketch hung on the door of her refrigerator for many, many years. I suppose it became so dog eared, she eventually had to take it down. Still people came with their wishes, troubles and wants, sign on the refrigerator or not.

It's been a long time since I sat in that old farm kitchen to talk with my friend. Elisabeth sold the old farm years ago and I suppose I have had less need than I did then, to talk to her about hard things. Still I do get to visit with her on occasion. When I do, I usually feel better once I've visited, than I do when I first come in. I had occasion to do this a couple of weeks ago. Elisabeth was in rare form and as usual, we laughed a lot. "Think good thoughts," is what Elisabeth has always said. Like many, I depend on her for this. Years ago, when I had a studio on Main Street in Norway, a similar thing started happening to me. Come two o'clock in the afternoon, people started slipping into the wide open space of my store-front studio. The thing is they didn't often come to do business; they came to talk and visit. The stream of visitors was so regular and so steady, a friend of mine used to joke that instead of making dresses, I should offer cookies and a bit of tea or coffee. Of course, he was one of the people who often came through the door. Though sometimes I think I should have, I never did hang out a shingle. After all, my model was Elisabeth.

The rain, which seems to have slowed now, hasn't taken much of the snow away. It has just made the cover less deep. This is a good thing, I think, as I again breath in the smell of the soup on the woodstove. As good as a bone-based, clear broth soup is for what ails you, so is a clean white cover of snow. I am thankful for this, for how beautiful the snow has been, for the way it has made the earth seem so uncommonly peaceful and quiet, for the way it's given me the ability, as Elisabeth would say, to think good thoughts.

Posted by Pamela at March 4, 2004 7:07 PM
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