My French Onion Soup
Minutes after my grandmother died, a handful of churchmembers appeared at her bedside and started singing Korean hymns. Her tiny apartment was cramped with people I didn’t know, and meanwhile it was unclear whether our grandfather was aware enough to know that his wife was dead.
Throughout the night, he sat on his futon couch and shook hands with the dozens of people who showed up to pay their respects to the still-warm body of my grandmother. But when left alone, he sat silent and still.
Koreans hold tight to their ceremonies and social norms, and when you add religion into that pot, you get strangers singing at the bedside of your wife before you fully grasp that you’ll never talk to her again; this leaves little room for warmth or intimacy. During that night, I had to leave the apartment to process the events of the night, but Grandpa never left. He was at the mercy of the script.
Sometimes this way of life can provide much comfort, as it tends to leave little room for uncertainty. Other times it doesn’t allow you a moment to cry.
It leaves you feeling empty.
After the funeral, my mom was busy trying to take care of Grandpa, making sure he had something to eat every meal. So I was left to fend for myself so one day I decided to make French onion soup. I’d never done it before, and it required me to cook onions for hours until they were mushy-soft and sweet, which Koreans never do. After a few hours of cooking, the soup was mediocre, probably because I used water and not beef stock. Most of it was put in Tupperware, though it should’ve gone in the garbage.
That was a mistake because, a few days later my mom came home from Grandpa’s house and asked, “What did you put in that soup?” which implied she had fed it to Grandpa.
“Umm,” I thought, “onion, olive oil, water, salt… I just cooked the onions for a really long time and …”
“He loved it.”
I’ve recently been struggling with figuring out what I enjoy doing — what brings me joy. I’m no longer writing for a living, and some days what I do is greatly satisfying; other days not so much.
I made French onion soup today — the right way — and I thought back to the time my grandpa loved my soup.
There’s an overwhelming satisfaction that comes with knowing that someone put your creation inside themselves — whether it’s food or writing — and it brought them joy or warmth. It’s like giving water to a cracking, dry sponge. I’m tempted to say I could be happy filling potholes, handing out coats or feeding the hungry. But, to be honest, I think it’s simpler than that: I want to fill the empty.