How A Pot of Beef Barley Soup Brought Me To Tears

Birthdays make me emotional. But right now it’s not (just) because my kids are getting older. It’s because of the people who aren’t still here to celebrate with us. 

Yesterday I decided to make beef barley soup. I’d had it a few weeks ago at a local diner and I’ve been craving it ever since. So I threw together some stew beef, carrots, onions, celery and simmered it with beef broth. Then I added corn, peas, and I decided to throw in some leftover string beans I had in the freezer. A can of of tomatoes. Some sauce. Oh, what the heck, some more frozen corn and peas. And, of course, the barley.

I blame the barley. I don’t recall my Babci ever making beef barley soup, but she quite often used barely in her homemade chicken soup. As well as whatever was leftover in the fridge for vegetables. Something about that pot simmering on the stove… the smells just made me remember her tiny little kitchen in Western Mass. We lived next door to her for many years and after school, in between finishing my homework and playing outside with my brother I would stop in and chat, see what she was making for dinner.

It seemed, and I think my brother will attest to this, that there was always some sort of soup. At least a little cup to go with whatever else they were having. “They” being my Babci and my (Great) Uncle Frank. I can still see the table. Her little plastic placemats (that I always hated). Her dessert cups with fruit and Jell-O, topped with Cool Whip. Her gas stove (for which she had a special gas tank — there were no gas lines to the house, at least not in the 1980s.) I remembered the green wallpaper. The light above the kitchen table. The chipped soup bowls. The black kitchen chairs (and then I glanced at my own black dining room chairs).

So I thought of all this and suddenly I was bawling, uncontrollably, in my kitchen. I quickly retreated to the bathroom and had a good cry before anyone would ever notice.

Is this normal? Does this happen to anyone else? It’s been 13 years since my uncle passed away, and will be four years this fall since my grandmother passed away. Maybe it’s because we’re having Laura’s birthday party this weekend. Maybe there’s no real reason at all.

And truthfully, I’m not sure what the point is, writing this and publishing it here on my blog. I just think it’s interesting — this connection to food and memory and family. And how it takes such a long time to really appreciate it all and connect all those dots. And maybe that’s why I love cooking. Because it makes me feel close to those who aren’t immediately here with us.

Or maybe I’m just crazy. Which is also entirely possible, LOL!



  1. Kathy C. says:

    Only other thing I can think of . . . are you pregnant?

    Just kidding, sort of. Otherwise, I think it’s fairly normal for nostalgia to transport us to a memory in the past that affects us this emotionally. She must’ve been very special. I suspect you were probably the apple of her eye.

  2. Angie says:

    I still get teary-eyed whenever I smell frshly cut grass…..
    And it is even harder so, when I look into my jewlery box and see my grandfather’s old tiger eye ring. I still can’t bring myself to get it sized to fit me….
    And although none of those have to do with food, no matter how wonderful the celebration is, I still can’t help but look around for him and feel my heartbreak over and over again when he’s not there.
    I hear time heals all things…..I’m still waiting……
    And no, for the record, you’re not crazy at all <3

  3. Denise says:

    And Babci’s son, your uncle Rich, still compares everyone’s cooking to hers. “Not as good as Ma’s”. The green wallpaper is gone, but her love is still here.

  4. Kathy says:

    Totally normal!!!!!!
    I remember starting to flat out bawl driving one day because I heard a Dean Martin song. I don’t even know if I Uncle Bosco really listened to him all that much, but it just set me off.
    And seeing a Hostess truck… he drove for them… totally made me cry..

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