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  • My grandmother made the best split pea soup.

    It was thick, and I am pretty sure she made it with ham, but she might have also used sliced hotdogs. But her special touch was the little puffy dumplings.

    There are many things I adored about "Granny", and split pea soup is just one I can latch onto as a memory. In the first year after I moved to Arizona, I wrote her a letter-- yes, we communicated via old fashioned hand written letters in 1987-- mentioning how much I missed her soup. It was just a thing to say to remind her how much I loved her.

    And it was quite the surprise when a packaged arrived at my apartment a few weeks later. Inside was her old soup pot- nothing special or valuable, just well worn, the handle chipped, the inside clean but with residue of past use. Also inside was a package of split peas and her recipe on a piece of paper.
  • My memory gets fuzzy about if I even tried to make her soup. The pot? It disappeared in the shuffle of moves as a grad student or in the path of marriage then divorce. The recipe? I could swear I kept it, but have not managed to find it in among my unorganized boxes of old papers and letters.

    But I did find a few memorable notes from Granny.

    One from the mid 1990s included what she described as her "treasured mementos". One was a note from a Valentines card from her husband, my grandfather, the man I never know but whom I was named after (He was "Abraham"; bless my Mom because she thought that was a tad old fashioned, and she modernized it to "Alan").
  • "If I had it to do over again, I would have married you sooner" is such a sweet and formal expression; I'm intrigued that a husband signs a note to his wife as "Dad"... but this was the 1940s.

    I also find it interesting since I have an audio recording I did with my grandmother in 1994, and she describes how she met Abraham at a high school dance. I teasingly probed her as to what song it was he asked her to dance to-- the closest she got was recalling that his favorite song was Irving Berlin's "Always". This in a way ties in to his note.

    The second treasured memento in my grandmother's letter was a clipping from a newspaper, with a handwritten year "1942" on it. She said in her letter, "I'm not sure you knew I graduated from Johns Hopkins class of nurse aids."
  • And that is true, I never knew that my grandmother got certified as a nurse's aid; I am guessing this was part of the local war time volunteer effort in 1942. This is a big deal, since I knew from her stories that she never went past 6th or 7th grade. Growing up in Newark, New Jersey in the first two decades of the 20th century, kids ended up having to work when they hit that age.

    The last was a handwritten letter to my Dad. It is a letter of apology for not getting a chance to see my Dad for being too busy. I had jumped to the conclusion that it was from Abraham, who was busy with his construction and later business management work. But on re-reading the note, it is actually from *her* father, or my Dad's grandfather. She said that he never signed his letters...

    It is dated August 4, 1940. My Dad would have been 21 then, attending University of Maryland. He struggled to succeed in college, and eventually dropped out.
  • If I can read the note...

    Dearest Mickey.

    I am sorry to have missed the treat of being able to visit you today, but it is all Bob's fault, he [??] me to take him to Coney Island yesterday swimming, and then to N.Y. to see a show, so I travelled plenty and got home too late and missed your Mother's invitation to go see you today, but I mean to make up for it when you come home before school starts.

    Don't be sorry to be 10 miles from nowhere for a couple of weeks, it is good for you, and when you come home we will make up a littler party and go some place where there are a lot of people and things. Aunt Helen, Bob, and Uncle Louis send their regards. It was very thoughtful of you to send two post cards to your loving grandfather, and it makes me feel so good. I'm looking forward to seeing you soon brown (?) and strong.

    I am intrigued by his re-use of "Roseville" New Jersey stationery.

    In many ways it is an innocuous letter, with a draping of formality, but leaves so many holes of questions about everything that was going on for my family in this time. I only know of it via faded photos and faded stories.

    And like that soup recipe, I seem to have only scattered, imperfect records, fragments of my family stories. What can I piece together?

    All who knew if, my grandparents, my parents, aunts and uncles, are all gone. I reach for these ingredients, spices, measurements, that went into making me, what kind of soup am I?

    My soup was tasty, I enjoyed it, but it was not my grandmother's soup. It is my interpretation of the soup, the story, the memory. And all I can do is try and put together what I know to imagine, and throw in my own ingredients.

    There is one more important fragment I found today, likely the last note I got from my Grandmother, from after she was put into a care facility when she was not able to live alone any more. She hated that, she hated giving up her car, her apartment, her money, her independence. She withered in that place.
  • I had written the year "2000" on the envelope, it is close enough in time. But this is so much her personality, written on a piece of paper ripped from an address book

    Dear Alan

    I have no stationary so I'm [improvising] with what I have.

    Am okay, very healthful for an old lady, 94.

    I thought you would like the pics. Copy them and return,


    I do remember her sending me some photos, and I have them elsewhere. I guess I dis-obeyed and did not "copy and return". That was the "spunk" I told her she had, because she always so herself having a future, even in a hospital where she had lost most of what she valued. I had teased her that I expected her to live to be 100, but really, getting to 96 was far enough for me.

    She's long gone, I have photos, these yellowed notes, and some audio of her voice. I have lost her soup pot, the recipe, and did not return the pictures she sent.

    And I know she loved me, dearly.

    I'm on my own with the soup.
  • Update: My sister found the recipe...

    Grandma's Split Pea Soup

    1 bag dried split peas (1 lb.)
    1 ham bone or several ham hocks
    1 package Onion soup mix
    Salt and Pepper
    Hot dogs (optional)
    Sherry (optional)

    1. Wash and drain split peas.

    2. Put peas and ham bone (or ham hocks) in a large pot.

    3. Fill with water 3/4 full and cook 1 hour.

    4. Slice carrots and celery tops (I start at the leafy end and just slice across the whole celery into 1/4 inch slices.) Add to soup.

    5. Add onion soup mix.

    6. Let cook until peas dissolve (about 1 hour.)

    7. Remove the bones.

    8. Add sliced hot dogs and let simmer for about 15 more minutes (optional.)

    9. Add salt and pepper to your taste preference.

    10. Add a teaspoon of sherry to each serving bowl (optional.)

    Note: Grandma used to also add egg drops by mixing together an egg with a little flour and dribbling it slowly into the hot soup while cooking. I've had minimal success with this. The egg drops just always seem to dissolve and not stay together. Good luck!
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