The Soup Pot
By Ethel Marbach
Once upon a time there was a great commotion in the kitchen by certain vegetables who could not get along with each other. All day long they muttered and grumbled, and when they did not mutter and grumble, they sputtered and mumbled. Soon the sound of the bickering grew as loud as a swarm of angry hornets preparing for battle, which upset the old woman who lived there very much, for she believed that there had to be harmony in the kitchen while she cooked.
If food was not prepared with love, she said, it would give you hiccoughs.
It would make you sneeze so hard you would see green balloons before your eyes. You would trip on your shoelaces while playing hopscotch, and, worst of all, the last page of the exciting story you are reading would be missing.
So you can understand why she was so upset. The old woman knew full well what was the trouble. Each vegetable felt that s/he was the best possible vegetable in the kitchen. no, in the whole world. and saw no need to be friendly with any of the others.
The carrots bunched together in the orange plastic bag. The peas shut themselves up in their pods (except for the telephone peas who gossiped up and down the vine when they were growing and couldn’t stop the habit now), and the purple and green cabbages put their heads together in the bushel basket.
The onions, who were a weepy sort, braided each other’s hair, burrowed into their lacey brown shawls and hung in a clump over the kitchen stove. They felt shy and bumbling, country cousins to their fancy relatives, the shallots and scallions and chives, who minced about being elegant.
The potatoes huddled together in grumpy groups, poking each other with their horny eyes and laughing coarsely. They couldn’t care less about the scabs of dirt on their skin.
The rutabaga considered himself the king of the kitchen and threw his weight around quite a bit. “Nothing,” he boomed, “can beat my strength, my fortitude, my flavor in a boiled dinner!”
There were a very few vegetables who tried to be friends. The younger lima beans did make friends with the young corn kernels and they played Succotash together in the old black pot.
The parsley would fight with no one, shrugged her shoulders and sprigged off into a jig. When she was not dancing, she enjoyed curling with her friend, Sweet Savory, using a dried straw-flowered broom. She was the best natured of the group, adding her opinion only when she was asked.
Not so the celery, who thought himself the brain of the kitchen. He stalked about, giving orders here and there in a crisp you’d-better-obey-me voice, the tops of his leaves waving like plumes in a soldier’s helmet.
The cauliflower, of course, knew better. She was not only the smartest but also the fairest of them all. What could be more beautiful than her snowy white head as a mass of firm white flowers? Nothing!
The only thing the vegetables did have in common was their contempt for Leftovers. Leftovers were poor unfortunates who lived in a shunned community of bowls and jars and plastic bags in the refrigerator.
“Foreigners!” the vegetables called them scornfully. “has-been’s!”
“At least we are alive and out in the world,” sniffed the delicate Frenched Bean, “even if we can’t all be as lovely as some of us.”
On this particular day, the Leftovers had nothing to do with the commotion.
It was all the vegetables’ doing, but it was hard to tell just how it began.
Perhaps the potato had accidentally bumped into the rutabaga, knocking him topsy turvey. Perhaps the peas had rolled underfoot of Sweet Savory, as she was jiggin. Perhaps the corn, playing leapfrog with the lima bean, had plopped into the squashy lap of the tomato. Whatever had started it, the old woman decided it was up to her to end it.
She rapped her wooden spoon smartly on the side of the big black pot.
“Silence, do you hear!” Attention, I want your complete attention, all of you! Listen to me. I will have no more of this behavior. The air is so sour now; it would curdle the sweetest milk. This cannot be. We are all here for the same reason. to create something of beauty.”
The vegetables stopped murmuring long enough to look puzzled. “And each of us needs the other,” the old woman went on. “We cannot create out of nothing or we would be like the good God who made us. An artist needs his paint. A writer must have his pen. A man who makes music must have his fiddle. A cook needs her soup pot.. And you!
“Are you ashamed? Why are you so rude to each other? In truth, there is not one of you who is as perfect as he thinks.” The old woman, even though she was annoyed, tried to soften her sharp words. “Look at yourselves with clear eyes.”
The woman was right. They were, in truth, far from perfect. The carrots were covered with long stringy hairs and spotted with wormholes. The turnip was so rubbery; a child could bounce it as a ball. The cauliflower’s white hair was splotched with grey and the flowers of the broccoli tree had blossomed yellow. The proud celery was limp and pale, from spending a dull time in the back of the refrigerator. There he had been shoved with jars of mustard and jelly and horseradish turned grey.
“Now,” the woman said, gently, “if you were in someone else’s kitchen, you might be called garbage and be thrown out for the pigs. But Leonie will not throw you out. Together we shall work magic and create soup fit for the saints. Be we must work together.
“You there, celery, stop feeling sorry for yourself and don’t slouch. Pull yourself together, onion, and peel off those dowdy clothes. Let me see your fresh shiny red face again. A haircut is in order for you, friend cauliflower, and never mind, carrot, a close shave with the peeler and you’ll be as smooth as ever. Careful there, peas, two at a time, and watch the edge of the table and stop whispering.”
The sun burst through the rain-splattered windows and the April wind howled and beat at the panes. But all was warm and cheery inside as the old woman filled the pot full of cold water and laid a bone with no meat at the bottom of the pot.
She dropped a handful of barley and then one of brown rice and watched them settle around the bone like pebbles which sink to the ocean floor.
The she chopped and diced and minced and peeled and shredded and slivered until she had shaped a large mound on the table. The heap of vegetables looked as pretty as a pile of confetti and smelled as good as a summer salad.
Gone were the wrinkled, rubbery coarse skins, and the bumps and scabs and spots of mold. The old woman dumped the vegetables lovingly into the bubbling water and watched it simmer down to a golden thickness.
Finally, she went to the refrigerator and bought out the Foreigners and added them all to the soup. A cup full of macaroni and cheese, a small bowl of chili red beans, two frankfurters, one Swedish meatball, and four brown mushrooms, whose eyes were hidden under their caps. into the pot they went.
Then she ironed pillowcases and hummed until the sun went down and her husband came home.
She filled two brown bowls with the soup and tossed a handful of dried bits of old cheese and bread on top of them. Her husband sipped the soup slowly and continued until the bowl was clean. He left not a chili bean or scrap of celery at the bottom.
“Ah, Leonie,” he sighed. “What an artist you are. You have created a masterpiece out of nothing. What a lucky man I am.”
“True, true,” she agreed, as she got up to fill her bowl again. “But I did have a little help.” and she smiled at the pot.
And every vegetable in the pot felt talked about.. Personally.