. . . row.
– Latin Proverb
. . . row.
– Latin Proverb
One day four and some years ago, when I was going through emotional turbulence of the highest altitude, a tooth broke. It was December and I was shopping when I felt something crumble in my mouth.
I couldn’t figure out what it was; my consciousness and subconscious were both drowning in muck. Reality was a fog. Pain was the only thing crystal clear to me.
At that moment I was listlessly going through a rack of dresses. Pounds were melting off me and I needed a new wardrobe. I continued shuffling through hideous-looking garments till rock-hard fragments made their presence known to my frontal lobe.
I couldn’t believe it. Pieces of a tooth! I joked to a friend that I was so angry my teeth were self-destructing.
It was tooth #13, in dental parlance. It had broken as if it had been sliced in half lengthwise, the outside half still alive and well. My dentist gave me a temporary crown. Well, half of one. She said I had to do something permanent about it. Sure.
Last month that remaining half said goodbye and shortly thereafter so did the temporary half-crown. Thing is, the tooth had broken off, not fallen out. The root remained.
Lately, my rheumatologist has been on my case to start Fosamax. This tooth was a handy excuse not to start a med I truly hate. The dentist won’t touch me I said. And it was true.
Because now my excuse is gone.
I was at risk for infection, I was told. After diddling around with the idea of an implant, one my dentist, a he now, he of bright, compassionate blue eyes, wanted me to seriously entertain. I did. Long enough to call the periodontist.
We start at $1,600 and go up to $2,500, she said. I already knew insurance wouldn’t cover a penny of it, but what really made my eyes bug out was the healing time. Four to six months, she said.
All that plus a metal screw drilled into my jaw?
I went to see Blue Eyes yesterday and he extracted what was left of #13. It took him approximately two minutes. I barely got the chance to enjoy the reggae station they had playing for me.
Unfortunately, I had to go back to him five hours later. It kept oozing, blood-tinged. Where I thought it was draining too much, he said it was “too dry.” He expected more blood to fill, occupy and seal the cavity. So he pulled out his needles again and sutured the site.
Strangely, I feel no pain. Just tenderness.
But then, tenderness is what was offered to me.
Free of charge.
The meat, the meat must be beef shank, preferably with bone in; it makes a much better tasting soup. Set it to cook in a large pot three-quarters full of water. You add the spices at this stage. Salt, black pepper, garlic. The amounts are not measured; taste is what matters.
You must watch it closely at first. The fat will rise and needs to be scooped out, a spoonful at a time, making the broth leaner, clearer. Then you let it simmer as life simmers, gently but persistently, bringing memories bubbling to the surface.
“Papa, when do you add the vegetables?”
“I don’t know, Mijita.”
You know he does, but you say nothing and instead turn back to the stove. The meat is soft now and curls around its round flat bone. The bone is white as white can be, the marrow nestled in its center. You poke at it with the spoon, breaking it up into pieces, allowing its juice to mix with the broth. Meanwhile, you have chopped an onion into large chunks and added it to the broth in progress. Its layers float to the top, shimmery, translucent, adding their own juice.
It is you in the kitchen this Sunday morning. Your mother is sick, a migraine keeping her abed. You feel a deep sense of desperation. You want to fill in for her, but you can’t. You are not her and your father knows you are not her. He walks through the kitchen and steps outside, leaving you to divine the next steps. You know what the soup looks like when it’s done, but not how it gets that way.
With the fat scooped out, you can step away and leave it alone for an hour, or two, being careful not to let the broth cook away to nothing. This simmering will cause the meat to shred, making it so tender you barely have to chew it.
This soup was a staple in your home. Every other Sunday the house filled with the aroma of its cooking. Your mouth waters at the thought and you are helplessly transported back in time. You see the tall clay pot sitting on the stove, flames licking its full rounded bottom, its flared top opened wide, gaping at the ceiling, its middle pinched in like a waist.
It resembles a woman’s shape and you wonder what the potter was thinking while he shaped it. It doesn’t appear to hold much, yet your mother makes sure everyone eats their fill. You can never figure out how she does that.
Once the meat has cooked through, it’s time for the potatoes. Scrub them well and slice them crosswise into thick slices, unpeeled. While they cook, chop up the rest of the vegetables, carrots, squash and cabbage.
Take a fresh corn on the cob and slice off the tip, then shuck the corn peeling back the husk to its core. With a firm grip, snap off the cornstalk. Under running water, work out the silk tucked into the rows of kernels. Score the center of the corn with a sharp knife and then break it in half and add it to your soup.
The corn was your favorite part. You looked forward to it. There seemed to be so few pieces in that pot, but your mother always made sure you got one. Those firm yellow kernels glistened sweetly as you inhaled your soup, leaving the corn for last. There was no need to salt it or add anything to it; it was perfect as it was. You ate it row by row, slowly working your way down the length of it. When all the kernels had disappeared, you siphoned out the succulent broth from within that cob, again working your way along it lengthwise, making sucking noises that made your siblings laugh.
When the potatoes are done, fish them out and place them in a covered dish. Add the rest of the vegetables and continue cooking. In approximately thirty minutes it will all be done.
There is not enough room in your deep stainless steel pot to hold all the ingredients at once. It makes no sense to you. It seems so much bigger than the clay pot of your memories. Nevertheless, you set the potatoes aside before adding the vegetables. You’re not sure when you figured out the sequence to this, if you were shown it or if it just came to you, but it matters not, now.
*Eat soup. It’s good for you.
**A version of this appeared on my blog, Prose and Possibilities.