“Maybe we could stop for a cup of soup?” my mom proposed.
It had become our common coda for a ten day journey around the Netherlands, the country where both of my maternal grandparents—oma and opa—emigrated from after World War II. Each new place concluded with a stop at whichever small cafe had a chalkboard out front with the word soep, and my husband, parents, and I would cozy up to a small table and order bowls of mushroom, tomato, or pea soup. We’d reflect on where we’d just come from and pull out the guide book to chart out our next stop.
I grew up in a Dutch American community on the southside of Chicago, but I didn’t realize how Dutch I was until I went to the Netherlands for the first time. I hadn’t realized how short the distance was between where my family came from and where they ended up—nor how little had had to change for me to be from this place rather than that one. But the way of life in the “old country,” as oma had called it, had been meticulously preserved in a new place, from the gardening habits to the last names to the food.
My mother used to spend Saturdays during the winter in the warm kitchen of my childhood home making soup. Stock would simmer on the stovetop and, with the occasional stir, would fill the home with rich aromas and warmth. Over the course of the afternoon, she would add additional ingredients—potatoes, bacon, lentils, celery, cauliflower, carrots. And as the hours went by, the flavors would mingle, the familiar smells of ham and lentil stew, cream of cauliflower, or spicy chili dancing through the house, drawing the whole family to the kitchen.
Once, after I became old enough to have my own kitchen, I asked my mother to write down her soup recipes so that I could fill my own home with those same aromas, with that warmth. “It’s very simple,” she said. “You just keep adding until it’s right.”
We become who we are gradually, time adding experience to identity. We are an accumulation of memories and movement, of realizations and relationships. A preservation of the past in constant evolution. We walk through life becoming more and more ourselves.
Looking back, the path seems clear. Grand voyages become souvenirs, the aromas and flavors of exquisite meals linger in recipes, and boisterous family gatherings full of fellowship and laughter are captured, however inadequately, in photographs. Still, these are tangible reminders, markers we’ve placed along the path to remind us of the way from which we came.
Looking forward, the path is less clear. New journeys still to take shape, foreign recipes to try our hand at, family and friends we’d like to entertain. We entertain grandeur and opportunity, and the path, while unclear, is enticing. So with a certain resoluteness, each day we move forward, knowing we can go any direction we want to go, taking steps toward grandeur and opportunity, creating our path, becoming slowly the selves we want to be.
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