Eight years ago today, my friend Dee passed away. We’d been friends for 44 years when she died. She is the only person in my life whose friendship spanned so many decades, the only friend who knew me from when I was a grade-schooler through when I was an adult. She knew me when my sister got cancer, when my father had a stroke. We were roommates in college and she saw me through many unhappy relationships and, thankfully, lived long enough to see me finally land in a happy one. Even though we lived on opposite sides of the country, she knew me intimately, what I struggled with, what I loved. I think about this—and her—a lot.
Even though we grew up across the street from each other, our families couldn’t have been more different. Her family was Catholic, mine was Jewish. I had one sibling and she had ten. I will never forget sitting on my front lawn, at age six, watching as one bed after another and yet another was moved into their house. Her parents ran a tight ship, which came as no surprise given her father’s naval background and the necessity with so many children living under one roof. They had chores with rotating schedules, someone always on tap to do the dishes or rake the leaves. My house was loosey-goosey. It’s not that I wasn’t expected to do my share, but I had much more freedom. When we were grown-up, she told me that she always felt envious of all the free time I enjoyed.
From my side of the street, I was envious of the camaraderie. She always had someone to play with, someone to talk to. When my sister got cancer and my dad had a stroke, I was only 12-years-old. I remember going to her house, especially during the holidays, and there was so much going on, so much noise and laughter, so much jostling and joshing, unlike my house where I had to be careful and quiet—half my family was sick, or just find a way to entertain myself. Our formative experiences were the polar opposite.
Which is why—looking back—I am always amazed that as adults, we hit it off so well. We had similar sensibilities and values. We both loved thrift stores, yard sales, and free piles. We both felt refreshed by a walk in the woods, and inspired by a good book. And we both loved to cook.
Of all the food we cooked together, Moosewood’s Mushroom Barley Soup became our signature dish. I can’t remember why. I’m not sure if we we made this recipe more than other Moosewood recipes (and we sure tried a lot of them), or if we liked it best, but over the years it became ours.
The last time I saw Dee, a year before she died, this is the soup she made when we visited her home near Boston. Of all Dee’s endearing traits (and there were many), one that stood out was her uncanny ability to pick just the right gift for those she loved, whether it was something for your birthday or Christmas or a special meal like this one. Her family members, her husband, and those of us lucky enough to have her as a close friend, were all the recipients of her incredible graciousness and thoughtfulness.
I miss my friend. Hers was an irreplaceable friendship. So I keep making our soup. It reminds me of her, and of the beauty and fragility of life and friendship. When I take a sip, warmth fills my belly and my heart. The world feels a little closer. That’s the promise of mushroom-barley soup.
It’s all about the journey,
If you want to give the recipe a try, you can find it in a blog post I wrote in 2009: Mushroom Barley Soup for the Soul.