The Cabbage is Sad

I've been eating a soup of struggle, pain, and loss for the past two years. Still I have not found my way back to the center, and I begin to suspect there is no one who will or can say "stop, little pot".

Mr. Z and I throw in a dash of bluegrass festival or getaway vacation or just an evening's Jeopardy-watching marathon to season, as we can. In this way it is possible to continue eating the soup; our eyes meet over the rim of our bowls, and we remember the world-without-soup.

In the past few months, we have been eating the soup of sorting, packing, giving away, and leave-taking. My siblings and I are clearing out the house my mother lived in for over eighty years, the house she was, literally, born in, so that it can be sold. Mr. Z and I are helping his parents winnow down their already-once-winnowed possessions for the move from two-bedroom condo to daughter's house. Three lifetime's worth of belongings form a river past our selves; some diverted to siblings, some to charity, some to us, until the river will dry up. As our tributary washes in the front door I begin to dig a channel out the back, pouring in unworn clothing, unused bedding, dishes-replaced-with-dishes, furniture-with-furniture. My channel is no match for the tributary, itself a tiny offshoot of the river; the house floods with worldly goods, memories, and regrets. The river itself would drown me if I am not careful.

Yesterday evening Mr. Z came home with three pottery bowls and a cookbook. You've seen the type; a church or community or extended family gathers favorite and treasured recipes; they are typed up, printed, often spiral bound with a cover evoking embroidery or tatted lace. This morning I began reading the tales of food, love, friends and family. Appetizers and Pickles proved disappointing. How many Taco Dip recipes does one need? The next section was Soup, and there it was, first recipe on the first page: Cabbage and Potato Soup. Hungarians, cabbage and potato soup - surely this will be good. The ingredients list included Kalbasz and sour cream; very promising. And then the first instruction:

Place cabbage in large bowl; sprinkle with salt. Allow it to get sad.

If only this cookbook came with a bubba! Perhaps a DVD bubba, if a real-life one cannot be assigned. A bubba to say "this is how cabbage looks and feels when it is sad; this is what I mean by 'stir occasionally'; lard will not kill you, eat, eat!; done but not mushy is like this; season to taste just so; and here is where you can get real Kalbasz, or how to make it if the old ones are all gone."

Alas, it does not. My mother is gone. My mother-in-law is moving away. I shall have to content myself with My Grandmother's Ravioli. And imagine I am a bubba myself, and try the Cabbage and Potato soup recipe. I will allow the cabbage to get sad; I will stir occasionally; I will cook until tender; I will cook until done but not mushy. I will mix and return to pot. I will season to taste, and I will always remove scum from top of water when cooking with small strainer.

I will do all this, as A.W. asked, in memory of E.R., and in honor of all the bubbas who so willingly cooked and served up food and love against the struggle, pain, and loss, all throughout my life.

6 responses so far

  • Peggy says:

    Lovely, Zuska! Several of my friends have lost mothers recently, and my own mother is getting frail. I am thankful she is still with us, and feel guilty that I do not spend enough time with her.

  • kotrba says:

    I am Slovak. I love Hungarian cuisine. My grandmother was Moravian, but she did an amazing paprikash. Your post made me miss her.

  • chall says:

    I hope there are many more of the bluegrass weekends and the likes of "life without soup" for you in the near future.

    I recall those feelings reading reciepes like that from grandmother "when done" or "feeling sturdy yet not too crisp" and the flavour of the meatballs that she made..... my mother can make them almost as good, and I can make them almost as good as my mother. Alas, nothing like the real thing but the memories when sharing the food and telling about them help and make up for the small differences in taste.

  • Slm says:

    Thank you for sharing these feelings and for describing them in such beautiful ways. I recently rediscovered your blog after a couple years away, as I was mindless surfing the web during a sleepness night. I lost my mother this past spring (cancer) and have felt adrift since then. I knew that losing her would be hard, but I didn't anticipate the loneliness of grief that has become a part of me now. Your words have really touched me though - thanks. By the way, my Mom was Ukrainian and thus, many years ago, I also had a Baba (and a Dido) and remember the smell of cabbage soup in the winter.

  • quixote says:

    Does this ever strike a chord. I'm the last of my family. One of these days I'll be moving overseas. So time to de-cruft to the tune of "Do I really want to pack this and ship this and pay more money for this?"

    No. No, I don't. I'd call most of it "junk" if I saw it at a flea market. And yet it is almost impossible to throw away the physical traces of memories and dreams. I can only do a little bit, an hour or two, and that every few days. More than that and I start being unable to sleep.

    I really admire your fortitude in dealing with way more memories, and under much harder circumstances. It's inspiring me to get back at my own little heaps.

    And, yes, strongly seconded: "Thank you for sharing these feelings and for describing them in such beautiful ways."

  • Zuska says:

    Thank you all so much for these very kind and heartening comments. It means a lot.