Soup Day

The theme of today’s Daily Prompt is: “Food for the Soul (and the Stomach ).”  That’s convenient, because in addition to being Remembrance Day, which in my part of the world is a statutory holiday, today is Soup Day in my household.

Twice a year I cook a turkey.  Roast turkey is the default menu for my family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. And, although my mother and sisters are all very competent cooks, somewhere in recent history a secret vote was taken when I wasn’t looking, and it was decided that Anna Always Cooks the Turkey.

I don’t mind, really. Cooking a turkey is about the easiest contribution to make to one of our communally prepared meals, and I have gotten quite adept at transporting an enormous roaster full of steaming bird to whichever house is hosting the event in question. And to be honest, my daughter and apprentice turkey roaster deserves all the credit for the most recent turkey. (That had something to do with my index finger being in a splint.)

Now the whole point of turkey is the leftovers, as far as I’m concerned. And the best part of the leftovers is the carcass. (Apologies to any vegetarians who are starting to wish they hadn’t started reading this. Feel free to get out now!)

Since mid-October the Thanksgiving turkey carcass has been stashed in plastic bags in the bottom of my freezer– waiting for a time when we could count on being home all day. Days like that are rare in my household.  Most of our days are characterized by much frantic-running-about.

Today, however,  is a perfect Soup Day.

soup potA whole day at home is necessary to see the process through. It takes a good 4 hours to simmer the carcass into a rich stock. Then it takes a while to cool it down enough so that the meat and bones can be handled. We painstakingly pick out all the tidbits of meat that have fallen deliciously off the bones and set them aside. Then we strain the broth and add the meat back in, along with vegetables, seasonings, and finally noodles.

I have a recipe, but I don’t really follow it. In fact I’m not sure why I even bother opening the book except out of some sense of ritual.

If you start the process right after breakfast, the soup is ready to eat right around the time you are starting to contemplate supper. All that you need to add is a tray of hot baking powder biscuits, thrown together at the last minute while the noodles cook.

soup bowl

After supper we portion the soup into containers  for freezing. In the coming weeks we look forward enjoying a home-cooked meal, even on the frantic-running-about days. Or rather, especially on the frantic-running-about days!

Mmmmmmmm.
Mmmmmmmm.

Silence

clockThe radio was always on at my inlaws’ home. CBC talk radio was the default, or classical music programming on various FM stations. My ex-husband carried this habit into our marriage. We woke to the familiar voices of Information Radio and did the supper dishes to a backdrop of As It Happens. The clock radio by the bed gave way to the radio on top of the fridge as we moved through the house in a primitive sort of surround-sound.

I got used to it. But once in a while, when I had the house to myself, I would go around and turn off all the radios.

Both my children prefer to fall asleep to sound. Sometimes quiet music, but more often than not it’s talk. There were favourite books-on-tape (now on CD), some of which we owned and some of which we repeatedly checked out of the library. Both girls had large portions of the Harry Potter series virtually memorized–they had listened to it so often. Now it’s more likely to be a favourite TV series or YouTube channel set to loop. I often find myself closing a laptop that has been left chattering long after its user has lost consciousness.

There are times I like background sound myself. When I’m driving I typically have the radio or a CD playing. When I’m working on a project around the house I will sometimes put on a CD. But when the CD ends, I often don’t think to start a new one.

The truth is, I like silence. When I go walking, I don’t have myself plugged into an MP3 player– I don’t even own such a thing. I want to be surrounded by enough silence to let me hear the crickets and the frogs peeping along the riverbank. I want the silence of the lakeshore that frames the cry of a loon in the middle of a dark lake.

I want the kind of silence that lets me hear my own thoughts. Judging from the ubiquitous wires snaking down from the ears of other walkers I encounter, I appear to be in the minority.

To be deliberately silent for two minutes–as we do on this day in memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in times of war–sounds like it should be easy. But for those of us who live in urban, western environments, silence is a foreign country. There is a massive industry dedicated to making sure that we never have to endure silence of any kind. It is easy fill our lives with an endless soundtrack of media and music.

So when we are asked to observe two minutes of silence in the company of others, there is a strange, uncomfortable intimacy about it. So many people aren’t used to being present to their own thoughts with that degree of focus. Even those of us who feel some degree of comfort with silence are unaccustomed to doing it in public.

I’m glad that two minutes of silence isn’t easy. It shouldn’t be easy. It should feel like a massive disruption to our normal patterns– a giant step outside our comfort zone. It should feel every bit as uncomfortable as it does. Because there was nothing easy for those for whom we do it.

Remembrance

It was spring of 1992. We were on the final leg of a two-week bus tour through Europe– snippets of Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, northern Italy, France. We left Paris early in the morning, feeling a little wobbly after our last-night-together revelry with our tour mates, bound for Calais and the channel crossing back to Dover. Late in the morning we reached the last “tourist” stop on our itinerary: the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

There are experiences that etch themselves in memory with such clarity and precision that  they remain ever accessible as perfect mental snapshots. The hour I spent at the Vimy Memorial was one such experience.

The photo is blurry because the bus is moving, but if you look closely you can see the wavy surface of the land.
The photo is blurry because the bus is moving, but if you look closely you can see the wavy surface of the land.

To approach the monument, the bus snakes its way along a long, winding road through a stretch of forest. The guide instructs us to look out the window into the trees on either side of the road and make special note of the ground. It looks like waves– as though it had once been a body of water, surface tossed by a heavy wind, and some grand magician had frozen it in an instant and covered it in a coating of green grass. The wavy surface is the legacy of the vast expanse of battlefield mud. The guide explains that it is forbidden to leave the road and walk into the forest because there are still live charges lurking beneath the grassy surface.

Imagine this lined with mud. And dying companions.
Imagine this lined with mud. And dying companions.

We reach the area that has been made safe for tourists, disembark at the interpretive centre, and are led to where the trenches have been preserved with concrete replicas of the original sandbags. What strikes me most about the trenches is how shallow they are. Standing in the bottom of the trench, the top of the sandbag wall barely comes up to my chest. These trenches were clearly built for crouching or lying in.  And that meant lying in the mud.

Winnipeg Crater

 

A cluster of bomb craters has also been preserved. Like the wavy, shell-torn landscape along the roadway, the craters are dressed in green grass that ought to soften the impact on the viewer. It doesn’t. Nothing could possibly mask the size and depth of the hole in the ground, and the realization of just how close that hole was to the trench  in which I had just been standing. The craters have been named for Canadian cities who gave up lives of so many of their sons and fathers in the battle at Vimy. I am shaken by how close to home it feels to stumble upon a sign proclaiming the “Winnipeg Crater.”

It is in the craters that I see the poppies. Not the “row on row” we have been taught to visualize by John McCrae’s poem, but a sparse handful of red flowers delicately dotting the vast expanse of green.

monument - distanceThe monument itself sits on the highest point of a vast expanse of brilliant green . The green seems to stretch forever in every direction. The sky is cloudless and bright that day– blue in a way that is almost surreal. It too seems to go on forever. My 21 year old snapshots don’t come close to capturing the intensity of that sky, but if I close my eyes I can see it as if I had been transported back in time and space.

Up close, the monument is too big to take in.
Up close, the monument is too big to take in.

You have to approach the monument along a long walkway that takes you over the field and up the rise. From a distance the monument appears massive, but it is only as you draw closer that you realize just how vast it is. And how small it makes you feel.

As you get closer, the human figures that adorn the monument reveal their life-like details. Any one of them looks like at any moment he could step down from his stone perch and walk beside you.

Monument - detailAnd then you notice the names. Long lists of names of the fallen, etched in precise columns in the towering stone. Each name linked by memory to a family somewhere. A son, a brother, a lover, a husband, a father, an uncle. A life cut short by the unthinkable horrors of war, in the desperate pursuit of peace. A young man whose last view of creation was not a brilliant blue sky over a rich green landscape, but rather a sky full of blinding explosions rendering the earth into a ocean of boiling mud.

And the moment you realize that is a moment you can never, ever forget.