Standing in the kitchen on a Saturday that got off to a slow start, it’s the smell of dill weed and potatoes boiling in chicken broth that takes me back. And suddenly I’m a child again, and I’m dumping potato peels into the trash through tears caused by onions and Mom has a hand on her hip, the way she always does, whisking milk into flour and butter.
Today my own butter and flour is scalding but I realize my own hand is on my hip, like my mother and my grandmother before me. Our picture – the three of us – sits on my kitchen windowsill. They’re both wearing black; I’m wearing hot pink. I never wear pink, but it makes me look even younger than I am. Lynn would have made it four generations, but none of us look old enough for a four-generation picture.
There’s something about making cream-of-potato soup that reminds me of my heritage, that makes me feel a kinship to the women of my family through the years. My kitchen is different and I bought my potatoes from a supermarket and I have no idea how to peel anything with a knife and I grab the paper towels instead of a rag and yet I’m using the same ingredients to make the same meal that they did, years and years ago; and still do, miles and miles away.
There are stories in the soup, passed down with the recipes, veracity unproven but I’ll pass them down as well. We loved the story of how my great-grandmother named it “sheet-a’poppin’ soup” in her own childhood; how she asked, as potatoes boiled, “what’s that?” and how her mother, my great-great-grandmother, thought she was asking about the sound of a sheet popping in the wind on the clothesline.
Today my dryer is turning ‘round and ‘round; it’s cold and gray and the clothesline takes so long on days like these. The husband is frowning at electricity wasted but he doesn’t have an answer.
Vesper smells the ham I scrape from a ham bone my mother-in-law sent home with me and her nose twitches and I take the soup off the flame and let it cool for Sunday’s dinner and the kitchen still smells of dill weed. Pinto beans are bubbling on the back burner, yet another meal prepared for generations and generations past, and more stories rise with the steam escaping from the edges of the lid.
And I wonder about how their world and mine combine, here in my own little kitchen. Our worlds are unbelievably different, it seems sometimes. I’m far from the Texas winds that never stop blowing and from a time when sheets always dried on clotheslines whatever the season and most of my days pass on computer screens. And yet here, for a few hours, I stand with them over a pot of boiling potatoes.
Our worlds aren’t that different, after all.