What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Is it a routine thing you did with a parent? Is it an annual family tradition? Or a specific moment in time? Is it the noise of the first pretend concert you did for your parents in the living room? Or the quiet of being in your mom’s arms on a sick day? Is it the day you first met your sibling in a hospital room? Or is it weekly dinners at grandma’s house? It is a big moment, a celebration, a vacation? Or is it a small, tiny, inconsequential one?
What is that memory you brought with you from childhood?
It’s snowing here again. And it’s a beautiful kind of snow, the soft, heavy one that seems to fall in slo-mo. The one that falls in Disney movies. The one that falls over new lovers falling in love. The one that feels like magic and makes your surroundings look like a winter wonderland.
The one that brings a sense of peace and calm to the soul.
It’s that kind of snow and I’ve got a pot of chicken-corn soup bubbling on the stove while the spawn sits by the living room window, flipping through a Frozen movie book she is obsessed with.
The sights and smells of food. What funny things they are. They carry the memory of so many memories.
My favourite childhood memory involves chicken-corn soup.
I was raised in a northern city in Pakistan, where summers are unsurprisingly hot (given the region is so close to the equator), but winters can be unusually cold. It doesn’t snow, but large concrete houses with airy verandas and large windows designed for temperamental summers ensure that winter makes its ambush felt.
Winters in that region mean gas heaters, roasted peanuts, large woolen shawls and heavy cotton-filled blankets.
The economies of the these cities run with Mother Nature’s mood, and while during summer street-side vendors sell lemonade, crushed ice freezies and sugar cane juice, in winter months, they sell hot French fries covered in spices, coffee, and…bowls of steaming hot, chicken-corn soup.
During my early years, my parents’ cheapest casual outing was driving up to a street vendor, buying four small bowls of said chicken-corn soup, and eating them quietly in the car.
This memory is one of my earliest ones. It is crystal clear in my mind, but also hazy around the edges, like glowing flashbacks in movies.
We would drive up to the street vendor, who was an educated man with a full-time day job, and an evening side hustle. My dad would roll down the window and a little boy would rush over to take our order. And while I waited in silent anticipation for the soup, I would stare at the road.
It looked like a sky full of stars. Or like fireflies in a dark field on a summer night.
You see, during summertime, vendors sold cold Limca bottles on the same road. The tops of the bottles they popped off would land on the road, and as cars drove over them, they would become embedded into the asphalt, gleaming under car headlights.
What a strange thing to remember.
And then the soup would arrive. It would fog up our windows instantly. I remember the china bowl in my small hands, its heat permeating into my fingers, the hypnotic steam rising from the thick liquid, and the first hesitant sip. And the taste, oh the taste. I am still searching for a soup that tastes like that.
That’s thing with childhood memories. They are unparalleled in their perfection and purity. You have seen so little of the world that every new experience comes with this sense of enlightenment, with this ferocity, with this sense of wonderment that adulthood eventually robs from you.
I can’t explain why this specific memory is a lasting one. Maybe it was the sense of excitement I felt on these short, simple trips in the family car. Maybe it is the earliest memory I have of a sense of closeness with my parents and brother, sitting in a warm, fogged up car on a cold winter night. Maybe it was the fascination with the Limca caps stuck in the road. Or maybe it was the soup. It was probably just the soup.
Or maybe, just maybe, it was my first experience with concepts I now know as “hygge” and “umami”.
Needless to say, as I stir the pot of soup in my kitchen today, the smell stirs up a happy melancholy inside me.
After we’ve chowed down the soup, my daughter snuggles up next to me on the living room couch, wrapped in a cushy throw and purrs like cat. I wrap my arms around her and wonder what she’ll remember.
Isn’t that all we want as parents? To hope that the moments our children will take with them out of this dreamy, fuzzy, eyes-not-yet-completely-opened phase of life will be pleasant ones?
Isn’t that why we protect them from the hardships of life? Ensuring that they don’t move schools in the middle of a term, or don’t face too many new challenges all at once, or don’t get involved with family conflicts. The trips to the zoo, the family vacations, the bedtime stories, they are all about this. All about ensuring that the memories they take with them won’t be the ones that scar them forever, or leave them disillusioned with certain people, places or circumstances.
Because a child’s mind is always on, and you never know what inconsequential moment will make it through.
All I hope, as my child cat-naps and breathes heavily next to me, and as cotton balls fall elegantly from the heavens outside my window, is that the moments she takes with her from childhood are chicken soup for her soul.