A Short Story
I’m at a point where I’m getting closer to understanding why it’s hard to replicate my abuelita’s spinach and potato soup. I’ve tried five different potatoes. Three different sizes. I’ve played with mostly potato and some yucca. I’ve tried sautéing the spinach in garlic first; adding it last, right before serving. That’s been the closest. Also, the onion counts. Yellow over white or red. The funny thing about memories, like when I was standing on my tip-toes in mi abuela’s kitchen, is that it’s never quite the same each time you next remember it. Details come back. Like when she pulled over the step stool, then a chair, to better accommodate my smallness. How she smelled. The ever-present scent of lavender. Heavy cast iron pans. Humming. Music. The sound of birds in the garden.
It took me into my forties to realize that it won’t ever be the same, and that’s on purpose.
Time works our memories in this way so that we have to do things our own way, and simply pay homage to what was at one time. Her kitchen never will be my kitchen. The smells aren’t even close. Herbs of all kinds hanging upside down drying. Potions in assorted glass bottles and jars with spidery writing. She was always drawing me pictures, in pen no less, with her thin, slightly shaken lines. Where she lived in Guayaquil, she had access to the kinds of fruits and vegetables that I could never find in the States—similar, yes—but not the same. I live in an apartment on the third floor in Harlem where I’m probably the only Ecuadorian within ten blocks. Abuela had a beautiful garden in the back, with pockets of delicacies on the sides and front. Plus, the water is way different. The air. The humidity. On the equator, daily torrential downpours muddying the streets, blinding drivers and impossible to walk in, is normal. Over in a moment, the sun comes out blazing hot again, drying the streets within the hour. Abuela would look at me with one of her Mona Lisa smiles, fragile skin tanned, her hands showing arthritis. The strength in those hands, like death grips followed by feather-like touches.
It’s the balance of her hands that yields the perfect sopa de espinacas y papas.
It’s all of her spirit too, and the memories of those who taught her, and those who taught them. In some ways, my simple sopa becomes a history lesson on the memories of taste. My sopa will never taste exactly like mi abuela’s because now it includes her as part of my memories. The alchemy has changed because it’s her and me.
© April 2019, Isabel Alvear