French Onion Soup
Mama 1935 – 1986 RIP
If you're a parent, do you have memories of saying “I’ll never do this when I have kids? I have so many myself. I loved my mother, she was a great mother. Of course, when she was raising me, she sucked. When I became a mother, I realized just how smart she was. If you were raised by the perfect mother I am truly happy for you. I was not, but it’s okay. She did the best she could with what she knew. She had to learn to be a mother by trial and error. I know that a lot of what we do as parents is trial and error, but some of us have somebody as a role model or point of reference. Not my mother.
Her mother was a Madam. Seriously. Meaning my mother grew up in a brothel, that also included a prospering drug business. Am I proud of this legacy? No. Am I ashamed of it? No. This was not my life, it was theirs. However, my upbringing was a direct result of everything that my mother learned and didn’t learn.
One of the things she didn’t learn was to cook, so mealtime was usually interesting, except for holidays, somehow, she laid out the ultimate spread. This was my normal and I didn’t realize at the time how interesting those daily meals really were. There were five of us children and none of us perished from food poisoning or malnutrition so I guess no harm no foul. And let me tell you, what she could make a box of Chef Boyardee complete spaghetti meal kit do, wow! It was totally awful, in my opinion, but it seemed to feed 20 people and they thought it was good. Add in those special occasion Ritz crackers and people acted like it was a catered meal.
Mama tried to give her children the things she’d wished she’d gotten as a child. A clean house, a solid daily schedule, regular meals and her availability. She wasn’t very affectionate, but she did her best with the dutiful goodnight kiss and hug. There was no doubt that she truly loved us all the time, but the times that I felt most loved by her was when I was sick. The temperature taking, the helpless look on her face that also exhibited strength – the look that said, ‘I have no idea what to do here but trust me, I’ll make this better’.
There was a lot of physical contact when we were sick. And a lot of home remedies, ones I’m sure she had heard of, thought she could pull off, but royally screwed them up; most of which should have probably killed us off. Like swallowing Vick’s Vapor Rub so that it coated the inside of our throats. Or the every 1st Saturday of the month system cleanse of all five children, at the same time, with only one bathroom. Or disguising Castor Oil in Coca Cola and being told to drink it fast, like we wouldn’t notice the blob of goo at the bottom of the glass that did not dissolve in the soda.
But the most vivid memory I have of her concocting something to ease the aches and pains of the flu, was when she decided that French Onion Soup was the thing that would cure what ailed me. As I watched in horror, she pulled out the small sauce pan, salted the water and brought it to a vigorous boil. Then she chopped up an onion. A white onion. Boiled it for a while and poured it in a bowl, handed me a spoon and said sip it slowly because it’s hot.
Here I am looking at this bowl of clear water with boiled onions floating around while simultaneously hoping that she would look at this and realize that something wasn’t right. That didn’t happen. So, I sipped my French onion soup (I now know that French onion soup has a brown broth), cried silent tears and vowed to never again eat French onion soup - nor would I torture my own kids with it. I did keep my promise to myself and my unconceived children, they have never been served French onion soup from me!
Parents really do the best they can so keep in mind what they're working with and cut them some slack.
I love you Ma, you tried.