On a mission from God | Mimi’s Vegetable Soup

Bigby Creek

The good, the bad, we love it all. Antonio Banderas

While growing up, I observed the lady of the house next door to be a person of distinction. She was willowy and elegant, erudite and well-dressed.

Her voice smacked of the well bred. Sounding a masculine tone across our front yards, she commanded my attention. We had regular exchanges as I was duty bound each week to harvest precisely 12 branches of mint from her prolific front bed garden for ice tea.

I liked her. She was eccentric, an individual, not a club person or one who found meaning in the collective. I never understood how she made her way in the politics of small town living. It seemed that her husband’s job had landed in her in uncertain territory and she never found her footing except to run the obligatory household errand.

But she was a voracious reader and that may have been the ice breaker when it came to a relationship with my mother. Our houses were positioned on a deep and craggy creek bed and it was there that they would link minds at different times during the week.

Her remoteness had a warmth for the creativity and intelligence that was my mother. I remember her distinct brand of fan mail.

“You are so good at everything, Mary Ann,” she would say. Her encouragement meant a lot to my mother who though, confident on the outside, was less than so on the inside.

Our neighbor loved to celebrate our family victories. I still have the dainty alarm clock that she selected from the downtown jewelry store for my high school graduation. Mother required that I walk across the backyards and tell her what the gift meant to me.

I remember the heaviness that came later. She would come over in a state of great emotion. My mother was empathic. She understood the hauntings of the mind.

Our neighbor was heartbroken when my mother died. Now I realize that perhaps it was because she was the only female friend that stood with our neighbor over time.

After her husband died, out of town visits with an only child stilled. She became lost to herself and had to remain in purgatory for a long while. Death would come in her ninth decade.

The navigation of life furrows was too much for our neighbor. (I.E., furrow: a long narrow trench made for planting seeds). All these years later, I’d like to tell her that in her pain and in her glory: she planted seeds.

Every person’s life is instructive to others.

An old carpenter who worked our old house comes to mind. He mastered his craft by measuring twice and cutting once. Advice was his stock and trade. He often said, “People are watching.”

Mimi’s Old Fashioned Vegetable Soup

My mother was of the era when homemade food soothed the savage beast. I know for a fact that through the years she offered our neighbor favorites from her soup stash. Here is one that she marked as a standby from Southern Sideboards, complied by the Jackson, Mississippi Jr. League.

1 soup bone – (if not visible in the grocery, ask for it)
3/4 pound cubed lean feef
Cooking oil
1 (16 ounce) whole can of tomatoes
1 large white onion, halved
3 carrots, skinned and sliced
2 white onions, quartered
1 teaspoon of Accent or other herb blend
2 cups celery, sliced
3/4 cup barley
1 1/2 cups uncooked egg noodles
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 (10 ounce) package frozen cut okra
1 (17 ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
2 1/2 (13 3/4 ounce) cans chicken broth or equivalent homemade

In large skillet brown soup bone and meat in a little oil Remove from skillet and drain on paper.

Fill 6 quart pot with about 4 quarts hot water and add meat, soup bone, tomatoes and onion.

Cover and cook on low heart for 2 hours.

Add remaining ingredients except chicken broth. Cook another hour, adding hot water if necessary.

Add chicken broth during the last 30 minutes of cooking.

This soup is better prepared several days ahead and makes 2 1/2 quarts.

*A pint of frozen home-grown tomatoes substituted for the canned tomatoes will add to the flavor. To freeze, leave out chicken broth when making soup. Freeze soup in quart containers. When ready to use, thaw and heat adding 1 can chicken broth per quart.