A Meal in Itself

Dearest Rachel –

I try to remember some of the inside jokes we used to share with each other as opportunity presents itself, but sometimes, I don’t have quite what I need to put it together.

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So I wind up making a mess of things, trying to explain myself.

For instance, this picture is as close as I can get to the particular joke I’m looking for, as Johnny 5 eventually gives up on trying to cook for the girl who found (and is currently hiding) him, and presents her with dinner consisting of (uttered in a rich baritone announcer voice) “a can of soup: a meeeal in itself.” In his (its?) inimitable fashion, said can of soup is literally just that; an open can with a soup sticking out of it. For Stephanie’s sake, I’d like to hope he heated it first, but considering that he didn’t think to even so much as take it out of the can, well…

Of course, a can of soup might be enough to feed one human, but I’ve got six of us to take into account this evening. Yes, the girls are coming over again this Friday (because Ellen will be unavailable for the next few weekends, and besides, this weekend is the anniversary of your homegoing; I think they had this in mind from the start), and Logan is already over with Daniel, watching My Hero Academia with him while I stay out of their way.

Besides, a few cups of tomato warmer are nice for a ‘welcome inside!’ greeting, but they aren’t meant to be a meal. However, I need to crib everything from my mom’s recipe collection, so that I know what I’m doing before the others get here, so here it is.

  • A can of tomato soup
  • A can of beef broth (I always thought it was consommé, but mom’s recipe just says broth)
  • A can of water
  • ¼ teaspoon of thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon of marjoram

That’s it; all that needs to be done from there is to mix everything together and heat it up.

Granted, it can never be quite that simple; I was pretty sure we’ve had no marjoram for several years (and if we did somewhere, it would long since have lost most of its flavor), so I stopped at the local Jewel to pick some up on my way back from the ‘office.’ What I didn’t count on was that I might not have any thyme, either.

And yes, I can hear all the puns in my head already, so you don’t need to remind me of any more of them. At least I came home early enough so that I have plenty of time to go out and get some more thyme before they show up.

Hopefully, that will be sufficient in terms of puns.

But of course, ingredients aren’t the only thing that I need to take care of before everybody shows up. Just the other day, the light in the front hall blew out; I want to say both bulbs went down at the same time, but that seems like too much of a coincidence. Still, maybe this is the case, as the LED bulbs I found to replace them seem a little dimmer.

There’s no denying they look cool, though.

I also decided to do the same thing with the light in the kitchen; we’ve had two of the bulbs out for most of the time since you’ve been gone.

This picture actually doesn’t do things justice; it makes it look like the kitchen is as dim as a fancy restaurant, when it was quite bright even with just the two lights. Now, it’s even more so.

It’s something to keep me busy while I wait for the tomato warmer to actually warm up, and the girls to arrive. However, I find myself starting all this at about 5:30, and I can’t reasonably expect any of them to show up until 7:00 or so. But at this point, what else is there for me to do?

So I keep the warmer on a low simmer, while I attempt to document the afternoon’s activities for you, with… limited success. As simple as my tasks are, my mind is elsewhere. Still, it’s nicer to be looking forward to people coming over, rather than dwelling on the past and what’s behind me that I can’t recover. And it’s not like there isn’t stuff for me to put together; I take time to bake a whole bunch of tortillas into bowls so that everybody (well, except Ellen) can eat the bowl the chili will be served in once they’re done.

That’s right; a can of soup may be ‘a meal in itself,’ but the tomato warmer was just an unplanned appetizer. The email thread between the four of us, where we agreed to meet today, had chili thrown out as a suggested entrée. But in order to get to working on that, now everybody needs to show up and finish the warmer, so I can use the pot. Hey, it’s tomato and beef stock; for all intents and purposes, the same ingredients as the chili has, so there’s no problem with reusing the same cookware without washing it.

There’s a clatter of metal outside that announces Ellen’s arrival; I told her to bring her recyclables, since our bin was almost empty, and her condominium complex doesn’t offer the service. I pour her a cup, open the door, and welcome her in. We chat in the kitchen, as I have to keep the mixture stirring (so that it doesn’t completely boil away), and the boys are in the family room in any event. I do, however, take a moment and show her around to see all the new boxes, not to mention the upgraded yellow room. I wonder to her whether you would’ve appreciated the clean house once you’d seen it, while lamenting the fact that in order to see it, we would’ve had to clean the house in the first place. It’s quite the catch-22. Ellen agrees that it probably never would’ve happened; it would’ve taken more than just being able to use a clean house to convince you to clean house.

It’s a harsh assessment, but probably true. But she was a true friend of yours, because that’s what friends do; they know every part about you, both the good and the bad, and they love you dearly nevertheless.

By the time Kerstin arrives, there isn’t enough warmer left to fill her cup; Erin will be left out, unfortunately. Hopefully, there will be other, possibly colder, nights. At least this allows me to assemble the chili. Ellen and Kerstin work on opening the cans, while I throw everything into the pot.

Now, you already know this, but I want to make this clear for others who might be reading this; I’m not just heating a can (or even several cans) of chili and serving it like that. I mean, I am using a couple of cans of chili meat (without the beans, since they’re added separately), rather than browning and spicing some ground meat, but otherwise, I’m following the way you and your mom used to do it. Separate cans of chili beans, and a can of diced tomatoes make up the rest of it, and it barely all fits in the pot. It’s enough to feed all of us, and that’s really what matters as we gather around the table.

I mentioned to Ellen earlier, as we were waiting for the other girls to show up, about my conversations with Ruby. I’d told her about my plans for the evening, and she wanted to see pictures of the gang. So, in the interest of fairness, I figured I’d send you a copy of the picture as well.

Erin will never figure out that, by making a deliberate effort to avoid being seen, she draws the eye of the camera – and the viewer.

It isn’t exactly Norman Rockwell, but it does carry a measure of nostalgia. It’s the sort of group get together that used to be a weekly feature at our house, when you were still here. The problem is, those weekly get togethers were so normal that we never thought things would be different in the future; we never considered that things might change. And so, we never documented what those days were like, leaving me trying desperately to remember what they were like. I think of them as being like these, just with you there too. So similar, and yet so very different, in a way that I can’t quite express or explain. At least, we have these moments, and I’ve recorded them, as a way to make up for the fact that the things we did before weren’t; I can imagine that this is close to being like those days, and look forward to the next time we’re together – whenever that might be.

Until then, honey, remember to keep an eye out for us, and wish us luck. We still need it.

Published by randy@letters-to-rachel.memorial

I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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