On Soup Suppers and Memories

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Last Sunday morning I talked to my mom, something I do every two weeks. The previous Friday night, my brother and sister-in-law and taken her to the American Legion’s monthly fish fry. Mom doesn’t get out a lot, and she can’t drive at night anymore, so these are special treats. Besides, she says the fish is really good.

Listening to her relate the experience and how much she is looking forward to next month’s it made me ask her, “Do you remember the soup suppers we used to go to when I was a kid? Oh, where have they gone?”

For whatever reason–maybe the cold weather, worrying about the state of organizations that depend a great deal on federal funds, or simply my love of soup–I’ve been thinking a lot about these dinners lately. My family loved them. Soup suppers usually served two kinds of soup, generally a vegetable and perhaps a bean soup. Bread or roll went with them. Chili suppers featured, well, chili. You got a nice hot bowl of chili, on the mild side spice wise, and cornbread. Those were probably my favorite dinners. I am, after all, a huge chili fan who could never understand why lots of restaurants only served it “in season.” I think my dad’s, and probably my brother’s, favorites were the bean suppers. There was always a navy or soup bean soup–seasoned with pieces of ham–available and often a pinto bean. And, of course, a roll or cornbread. As for Mom, I think she liked them all since it meant she didn’t have to cook.

There were also spaghetti suppers, but we didn’t go to those as often. Spaghetti, garlic bread, and sometimes a dessert were featured.

But as Mom and I talked last Sunday, it became clear to me that these suppers were more than an opportunity to get some great food at a reasonable cost. Don’t get me wrong, the fact these suppers were a low-cost way to eat out and get a good, hearty meal was important to my family. We didn’t have the money to eat out often. But there was more. In my hometown, most were held in meeting halls like the American Legion or VFW. We sometimes went to ones held at a church or school, but those were less frequent. I specifically remember having to walk up a really steep set of stairs and turn right to enter one (and you don’t need to know how long ago that was). Long tables were set up, and everyone sat together. And the bowls. No matter what soup was served, it always came in a heavy white bowl; I’d love to get my hands on some of those bowls today.

There were many times when my brother and I were by far the youngest ones there. But it didn’t matter. Everyone was so nice. People brought whatever soup and any sides to you with big smiles on their faces. (Yes, most were women.) There was an almost constant buzz of conversation, occasionally interrupted by laughter, among people, many of whom did not know each other. But it didn’t matter. Food, in this case soup, brought people together. For at least a night, there was no distinction between friends and strangers.

It’s been many years since I’ve attended a soup supper like those of my childhood. I don’t even know if organizations still have them. I know I’ve not seen any listed where I’ve lived since leaving Iowa. That makes me sad. I’m sure there are several reasons why–or more accurately, why not. After all, people are very busy, and many don’t have time to volunteer to help out at these events. I think what makes me saddest of all is that besides great food and atmosphere, people, especially children, will not have the chance to create great memories of the power of food to bring people together for at least an hour or so.

© Copyright 2017 Ida Walker, All rights Reserved. Written For: The Enabling Cook
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