I had been married a few short months when my husband and I shared our first Easter together. With my family in California, we spent the afternoon with his.
My husband is fifteen years my senior and he is ten years younger then his closest brother. The result being, as I stepped into my in-laws kitchen, was that I was surrounded by old people.
"Oh, good." My brother in law, who looks a lot like the banker on the Monopoly game board, said when he saw us. "You're just in time for Grandma's Polish soup."
"What's that?" I asked innocently. I had no reason to be suspicious. Our families had a long history that began over a breakfast of pancakes, fresh squeezed orange juice and bacon. I knew my brother-in-law was a great cook.
"It looks gross, and it sounds gross, I know," began my husband, "but it tastes great."
"What's in it?" I asked with growing skepticism.
"Just try some." Was my brother-in-law's cagey response.
"After you tell me what's in it."
Looks were exchanged all around the room.
"Well, you start with chicken soup."
"You know, just plain chicken soup." My husband, sounding defensive, looked at me like I was supposed to respond. "Chicken soup."
"I got it."
"Then you add polish sausage, chopped hard boiled egg and chunks of rye bread."
"Without caraway seed." My husband clarified. "Seedless Rye bread." The way he said it suggested the whole soup would be ruined by the presence of that seed, but it was hard for me to imagine the soup wasn't ruined already.
"And then you top it off with horseradish." My brother-in-law said, setting steaming hot bowls down on the kitchen table. "It's delicious."
My in-laws began to slurp it up like wolves sucking marrow out of a bone.
"Why do they call it Polish soup?" I asked.
"I don't know." Replied my brought-in-law with a shrug.
"No. I mean: Where does it come from? Is this an ancient soup served among the royal line? Did it originate with the peasants in the countryside? Was it a result of communism? Why is it Polish?"
"I think Grandma just made this up herself." My mother-in-law added. "The boys just always called it Grandma's Polish soup because she's Polish and she's the only one who made it."
"Oh." I stared at the steaming soup placed before me like my death was at the bottom of the bowl.
My mother-in-law sensed my trepidation. She is a little, robust Italian lady with lips like the curl at the tip of a rose petal, skin like chilled cream in a porcelain bowl, and light chocolate truffles for eyes. A perpetual frown announces her sanguine personality and a shrug of her shoulders coupled with upturned hands could mean any one of a million different things. It's her language.
"When I first got married. I thought this soup was weird." She did her shoulder/hand thing. "But I ate it. And year after year," she shrugs again, "I started to, you know, get accustomed to it. And you will too, get accustomed to it."
Like heck I will!
It was as if, in that moment, sitting at that table surrounded by my new family who also happened to be old friends, with the diffused Spring light coming in from the window catching dust and cat hair in it's streams, with noses running from the horseradish being patted and wiped, and with the sound of hot soup being sucked off a spoon ringing in my ears like ocean waves, my mother in law pulled back the curtain and showed me my future.
I tried, honest I did. I psyched myself up, and then backed down; psyched myself up and then backed down. Finally, I just gave up.
"It looks great. If I weren't a vegetarian I'm sure I'd love it, but I just can't bring myself to eat meat." I said as I gently pushed the bowl away.
It's been eleven years, and I haven't been a vegetarian since before my first child was born, but I have yet to bring a spoon of Grandma's Polish soup to my lips. Although, I have managed to get it half way between my chest and my chin before backing out on several occasions. And while I may never learn to appreciate that soup, it remains a very important part of the way my husband and his family celebrate Easter.
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