Cowboy Soup - December 2018
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW
The following is not my story. It was told to me by my son-in-law Schuyler (we call him Sky), and he says eating “cowboy soup” is one of his favorite childhood memories.
There were six in our family—my mom and dad, my oldest sister Anne, a brother Jay, a sister Kyla, and me—I was the youngest. My dad was a pastor—about 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighing about 250 pounds. He stayed busy with church work and my mother Bev was the main cook around our house. Occasionally she was gone from home, sometimes overnight, selling Stanley home products.
When my mom was gone, our dad would make us what he called “cowboy soup,” the only thing I ever remember him cooking, but it was a big deal for me and my brother and sisters. Sometimes I secretly hoped that mom could be gone so dad would cook.
Here’s how the evening would go on cowboy soup night. My dad would announce, “It’s cowboy night!” Then he would tell us to put on our pajamas—I guess he wanted us ready for bed after supper. Then dad would say that we needed to build a campfire, not a real campfire, but a pretend one.
So we got the throw pillows off of the couch and piled them in the middle of a round purple rug (about 7 feet across) in the living room—the pillows were our campfire. Some of the pillows were round, some square, but some were round and long, just right for firewood!
Then the four of us kids (we ranged from about 11 years down to 4 when we first started eating cowboy soup) and our dad would sit cross-legged in a circle around the campfire for supper. My dad made cowboy soup two ways—either with pork and beans and browned hamburger or pork and beans with cut-up hotdogs. He heated it and served it to us on paper plates—the only time we ever used paper plates at home!
We would eat our soup and sometimes ask dad if there was any dessert. And he would answers. “Cowboys don’t eat dessert! Cowboys are tough guys!” So we gave up on the dessert idea!
Sometimes we would ask if we could go outside and build a real fire, but our daddy always poo-pooed the idea, saying our campfire under the stars in the house was just fine—that we just had to pretend. So we did. Even after it got dark, we stayed around our campfire and laughed and told stories with light from a little lantern. It is one of my most fun memories of time with my dad.
Looking back, I realized that we had cowboy soup because my dad did not know how to cook anything else and that building an indoor campfire from our mom’s throw pillows was much easier than building a real campfire outside for us. Nevertheless, cowboy soup nights are still some of my best childhood memories, and my cowboy soup has never tasted as good.
There are some lessons to be learned from Sky’s cowboy soup story.
- It’s hard to duplicate recipes from our childhood—the food always tasted better when we were hungry, growing kids.
- Making good memories does not have to be costly. It can be as simple as sitting around cross-legged in a circle on a purple rug, eating a simple two-ingredient meal by someone who hardly knows how to cook.
- The cowboy soup filled the tummies of the four kids, and they went to bed with pleasant memories in their heads.
- Having cowboy soup is about spending time with those you love, of making memories you may treasure for a lifetime, even after your loved ones are gone.
During this Christmas season, what you have to eat is far less important that spending time with those you love. Sometimes after a loss, it is very difficult to have the energy and enthusiasm to prepare a large, expensive meal that takes a lot of work. So maybe you would like to try something simpler and less expensive this holiday season, maybe something as simple as soup.
One family started a new tradition of a special breakfast instead of their large traditional holiday meal. Try to enlist the help of other family members if you decide to make changes in your holiday traditions. The main thing is to take care of yourself physically and protect your heart as you heal from your loss, even if that includes making your version of cowboy soup.
Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice 709 Liberty Clay Center, Kansas
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator