Monday, October 16, 2006

Chicken Soup For A Nigga's Soul

My mother’s chicken soup was gooder than a muthafucka. And that’s way fuckin’ better than “Mmm…Mmm…Good!”

Earlier this week, I was dealing with a nasty cold. I don’t get sick often, so it’s always a bit of a shock to me. But this cold was a beast. It had me congested and achy. And it did its best to convince me that it might just be the flu.

Then it struck me. Chicken soup. I would make some chicken soup. My mother always made me chicken soup when I was sick. Real chicken. Real soup. You know the kind. Potatoes and carrots boiled ‘til they were soft, but not mushy. Celery provided green accents that merited this Nutritional Information label: “This soup contains life. Known side effect: Good health.” Yes, I would make some chicken soup. Off to the store I went.

May be I had chicken soup on my mind because I’d recently seen the video for “Chicken Noodle Soup” by Webstar & Young B. Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with chicken noodle soup nor with “…a soda on the side,” I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling -- as the minutes of grinning and dancing passed -- that I was soaking in some ignorant shit.

I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to bemoan the Black folks I’ve known in my day whose kids could do the latest dance, but could not answer a simple question.

“5x3.” My mother stood there with my food in her hands. “Huh?” It was instinctual. I was stalling. She knew it. I knew it. And I also knew that my ability to gather myself and retrieve that answer from my memory was the only thing standing between me and my dinner. Deep breath. “15.” “Very good.” She didn’t smile or anything, but my mother was satisfied for the moment. She knew it. I knew it. And before I knew it, I knew my multiplication tables backward and forward.

I smiled to myself as I pushed my cart through Ralph’s. “Chicken? Check. Potatoes? Check. Carrots? Check. But where, oh where, do they keep the times tables? This shit ain’t gonna taste right without the times tables.” I was doing my best to recreate the soup in my mind, trying to think of everything that my mom used to put in there. But what would I use in place of times tables?

I walk past cans of chicken noodle soup and sneer, “And they call that soup?”

“CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP. CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP. CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP WITH A SODA ON THE SIDE.” In the video, kids dance on Harlem streets. (Even when we dance we rep where we from, right?) And as I watched, as I enjoyed the joy and energy that filled the screen, as these kids got “their light feet goin’,” a smile crept onto my face. I argued with myself.

NMN: Yeah, but do they know their times tables?

NMN (prime) : How you know they don’t know their times tables?

NMN: I didn’t say they didn’t. I’m just sayin’.

NMN (prime): You knew the times tables AND the latest dances. So, what are you sayin’?


But I knew damn well what I was saying. I was saying that not everybody is as lucky as me. I was saying that sometimes -- like we see in the video -- that whether its because Mommy has to go to work or she has to rush back to the TV because Maury has the paternity results and they’re back from commercial, some kids never get asked what five times three equals. Some kids don’t know. And some kids, like the ones I once had as a substitute teacher, still use the actual written tables as they do basic algebra in their eleventh grade class. I knew that, though it was possible to know how to do the Chicken Noodle Soup and know that 5x3 =15, that for far too many that is not the case. And in a disheartening percentage of that number the education is light on the ‘rithmetic and heavy on the rhythm. And that gives me the blues.

“With dumplings?” I always asked Ma if there would be dumplings. There always were, but I always asked. Looking back, I guess it enhanced the expectation. Those dumplings were sweet little treats in my mother’s soup, part of how Ma gave being sick an upside. “You want dumplings?” She knew I did. “Yeah,” I shot back. “Okay.” She smiled a smile as warm as the soup she was going to make me. And off to the store she went.

I must have tasted that soup fifty-eleven times. I just couldn’t get it quite right. I asked Mrs. NMN to taste it. “It’s fine,” she said. “Just give it a chance to cook. It just needs time now.”

I stood there quietly, watching over the simmering pot. I started to wonder if this first attempt at my mother’s chicken soup since she’s been gone wasn’t a way to heal something more than the common cold. One of the niglets let out a cry from their crib. Neither Mrs. NMN nor I moved. We’ve learned not to go running in there too quickly. Quiet. We talked.

Which of the twins is doing this new thing? Which of the twins is saying that new word? Which of the twins is playing that new game?

I stopped for a moment. “I love them so much,” I said, overwhelmed by the love and the realization. “I know,” Mrs. NMN smiled back.

“If it hadn’t been for them…” My voice trailed off. My wife knew the rest anyway. The niglets were born just a couple months after my mother died. I looked down at the soup and mused, “That was hard times. I don’t know what I would have done without them.” I didn’t have a good cry over losing my mother for about a year after her funeral.

LET IT RAIN. CLEAR IT OUT.

Mrs. NMN added, “I know what you mean. You just love them so much that it gives you a reason to live.”

And then it hit me like a bolt of lightning. Love. My mother’s love was in the cooking of that soup. And my love for her was in the tasting. No pot of soup I ever made would taste like hers. No pot of soup I ever made could taste like hers. Not to my tastebuds. It was a relief to realize that I didn’t have to try to make it taste the same. Without her love in there, this was a whole new recipe. My recipe.

“Oooh, that’s good.” Mrs. NMN lowered the spoon from her lips. “We should put some aside for the kids for tomorrow. They’re going to like that.”

I smiled at the thought, and wondered if the niglets might like my chicken soup.

I wonder if they’ll do the latest dances. I wonder if they’ll appreciate why I drilled them on their times tables. I wonder if they’ll understand why I say the latter is more important than the former, but that to have the latter AND the former is to have a rich life. I wonder if they’ll know that I’ll love them all the same. I wonder if, when they get sick, they’ll look forward to my chicken soup with dumplings in it, just the way they like.

And though it won’t ever be as good as my mother’s, it will be made with love. And I hope that the niglets grow up thinking, “Daddy’s chicken soup is gooder than a muthafucka.” That’s way fuckin’ better than “Mmm…Mmm…Good!”

Labels: , , , ,

6 Comments:

Blogger slouchmonkey said...

Hell, ya! I was sick awhile back and my wife made me a pot of chicken soup from another world. I'll be damned if I wasn't well later the next morning. The key ingredient? Love, of course.
Great story. I thoroughly enjoy your writing!

11:10 AM  
Anonymous Whorebaby said...

I cried. Great post.

11:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was absolutely beautiful, Oz. I really do not have th words for how it touched me.

11:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That story was gooder than a muthafucka!

8:13 PM  
Anonymous noni said...

ur writing inspires me

6:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. i came across this page looking for god-knows-what on google. i read the first line and i was hooked. this is good stuff...

11:15 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home