by Kathryn Hitte and William D. Hayes
(New York: Parents' Magazine Press, 1970--currently out of print)
All the way across town Mama sang to herself--to herself and the little one, little Juanita. Here on the streets of he great fine city, she sang an old tune from the old home in the mountains. And she thought of what she would buy in the markets.
Only the best of everything. Potatoes and peppers--the best! Tomatoes and onions--the best! The best garlic. The best celery. And then, cooked all together, ah! The best soup in the world! Mama's Special Mexicali Soup. The soup that always made everyone say, "Mama makes the best soup in the world."
"Ah, si!" Mama thought with a smile. "Yes! Our supper tonight will be a very special supper for my Rosie and Antonio and Juan and Manuel and Maria, and for the little one--and for Papa, too. A very special supper of my Mexicali Soup."
"Mama! Yoo-hoo, Mama!"
There was the fine new school building where Juan and Manuel and maria went to school, and there was Maria with her new city friend, waving and calling.
"Wait a minute, Mama!" Maria came running to put her schoolbooks in the stroller with Juanita. "Mama, may I play a while at Marjorie's house? Please?"
"Very well," Mama said. "A while. But do not be late for supper, Maria. I am making my special soup tonight."
"Mmmm-mmm, Mexicali Soup!" Maria said. Then she looked thoughtful. then she frowned. "But--Mama?"
"Mama, there is such a lot of potatoes in your Mexicali Soup."
"Of course," Mama said, smiling.
"Marjorie doesn't eat potatoes. Her mother doesn't eat them. Her sister doesn't eat them. Potatoes are too fattening, Mama. They are too fattening for many people in the city. I think we should do what others do here. We are no longer in the mountains of the West, Mama, where everyone eats potatoes. We are in the city now. So would you--Mama, would you please leave out the potatoes?"
"No potatoes," Mama said thoughtfully. She looked at Maria's anxious face. She shrugged. "Well, there are plenty of good things in the Mexicali Soup without potatoes. I will add more of everything else. It will still make good soup."
Maria kissed Mama's cheek. "Of course it will, Mama. You make the best soup in the world."
Mama went on with Juanita to the markets, to the street of little markets, thinking aloud as she went, "Tomatoes, onions, celery. Red peppers, chili peppers, good and hot. And garlic. But no potatoes."
Mama went to Mr. Santini's little market for the best tomatoes and celery. She went to Mr. Vierra's little market for the best onions and garlic. "And the peppers," she said to Juanita. "We will buy the peppers from Antonio. Our own Antonio, at the market of Mr. Fernandez. Here is the place. Ah! What beautiful peppers!"
Antonio came hurrying out of the store to the little stand on the sidewalk.
"Let me help you, Mama!" I hope you want something very good for our supper tonight. I get very hungry working here," Antonio said.
"Ah, si!" Mama said. "Yes, Antonio. For tonight--something special!" She reached for the hot red peppers strung above her head. "Mexicali Soup."
"Hey! That's great," Antonio exclaimed. Then he looked thoughtful. Then he frowned. "But--Mama--"
"Yes?" Mama said, putting some peppers in the scale.
"Well--Mama, you use a lot of hot peppers in your soup."
"Of course," Mama said, smiling.
"A lot," Antonio repeated. "Too many, Mama. People here don't do that. They don't cook that way. They don't eat the way we did in the mountains of the West. I know, Mama. I have worked here for weeks now, after school and Saturdays. And in all that time, Mama, I have not sold as many hot peppers to other ladies as you use in a week.
"Mamacita," Antonio said. "Please don't put hot peppers in the soup."
"No peppers," Mama said thoughtfully. She looked at Antonio's anxious face. "Well--" Mama shrugged. "There are plenty of good things in the soup without peppers. I will add more of something else. It will still make good soup."
Antonio took the peppers out of the scale and put them back on the stand. "Of course it will, Mama." He kissed her cheek. "Everyone knows you make the best soup in the world."
Mama went on with Juanita toward home. "Tomatoes, onions, garlic, celery," she said to herself. "Yes, I can still make a good soup with those." She hummed softly to herself as she crossed a
street blocked off from traffic, and street that was only for play.
"Hey, Mama! Mamacita!"
Juan and Manuel left the game of stickball in the play street. They raced each other to the spot where Mama stood.
"Oh, boy! food!" said Juan when he saw the bags in the stroller. He opened one of the bags. "Tomatoes and celery--I know what that means."
"Me, too, said Manuel. he peeked into the other bag. "Onions and garlic. Mexicali Soup! Right, Mama?" Manuel rubbed his stomach and grinned. Then he looked thoughtful. Then he frowned. "But, Mama--listen, Mama."
"I am listening," Mama said.
"Well, I think we use an awful lot of onions," Manuel said. "They don't use so many onions in the lunchroom at school, or at the Boys' Club picnics. You know, Mama, they have different ways of doing things here, different from the ways of our town on the side of the mountain. I think we should try new ways. I think we shouldn't use so many onions. Mamacita, please make the Mexicali Soup without onions."
"Manuel is right!" Juan said. "My teacher said only today that there is nothing that cannot be changed, and there is nothing so good that it cannot be made better, if we will only try. I think there may be better ways of making soup than our old way. Make the soup tonight without tomatoes, Mama!"
"No tomatoes?" Mama said. "And no onions? In Mexicali soup?" Mama looked at the anxious faces of Juan and Manuel. Then she shrugged. She closed the two bags of groceries carefully. She pushed the stroller away from the play street. She shrugged again.
Voices came after her. Juan's voice said, "We will be hungry for your soup tonight, Mama!"
Manuel's voice called, "Mamacita! You make the best soup in the world."
In the big kitchen at home, Mama put the groceries on the table by the stove. She hummed a little soft tune that only Mama could hear. She stood looking at the groceries. No potatoes. No peppers. Tomatoes--Mama pushed the tomatoes aside. Onions--she pushed the onions aside.
Mama sat down and looked at what was left.
The front door clicked open and shut. Rosie came into the kitchen. Rosita, the young lady of the family.
"Hi, Mama. Oh, Mama--I hope I'm in time! I heard you were making--" Rosie stopped to catch her breath. She frowned at the groceries on the table. "All the way home I heard it. The boys and Maria--they all told me--and Mama! I want to ask you--please! No garlic."
Mama stopped humming.
Rosie turned up her nose and spread out her hands. "No garlic. Please. Listen, Mama. Last night when my friend took me to dinner, I had such a fine soup. Delicious! the place was so elegant, mama--so refined. So expensive. And no garlic at all in the soup!"
Rosie bent over and kissed Mama's cheek. "Just leave out the garlic, Mamacita. You make the best soup in the world.
A deep voice and many other voices called all at once, and the front door shut with a bang. "Mama! We are home, Mama!"
Then all of them, Juan and Manuel and Antonio, with Maria pulling Papa by the hand--all of them came to stand in the kitchen doorway. Papa reached for the baby, the little Juanita, and swung her onto his shoulders.
"I have heard of something special," Papa said. "I have heard we are having Mexicali Soup tonight."
Mama said nothing. But Mama's eyes flashed fire. She waited.
"Your soup, Mama--" Papa said. "It is simply the best soup in the world!"
"Ah, si! But you want me to leave out something?" Mama's voice rose high. "the celery, perhaps? You want me to make my Mexicali Soup without the celery?"
Papa raised his eyebrows. "Celery?" Papa opened his hands wide and shrugged. "What is celery? It is a little nothing! Put it in or leave it out, Mamacita--it does not matter. The soup will be just as--"
"Enough!" Mama said. "Out of my kitchen--all of you!" mama waved her arms wide in the air. The fire in Mama's eyes flashed again. "I am busy! I am busy getting your supper. I will call you. Go."
"But, Mama," said Rosie, "we always help you with--"
"No!" Mama said. "Out!"
Rosie and Juan and Manuel, Antonio and Maria, and Papa with the baby, tiptoed away to the living room.
There was only silence coming from the kitchen. Then the sound of a quiet humming. Soon the humming mixed with the clatter of plates and spoons, the good sounds of the table being set for supper.
The humming turned into singing. Mama was singing a happy song from the old home in the mountains. Juan and manuel, Antonio and maria, Rosie and Papa, looked at one another and smiled and nodded. Mama was singing.
Then from the kitchen Mama's voice called to them. "The soup is finished. Your supper is ready. come and eat now."
"ah! that is what I like to hear," said Papa, jumping up with Juanita. The soup is ready before I have even begun to smell it cooking."
"Mmm-mmm!" said Juan and Manuel, racing for the big kitchen table.
"Mmm-mmm!" said Maria and Antonio and Rosie, when they saw the steaming bowls on the table. "Mama makes the best soup in the world."
But what was the matter?
"This doesn't look like Mexicali Soup," said Maria, staring at the bowl before her.
"It doesn't smell like Mexicali Soup," said Antonio, sniffing the steam that rose from his bowl.
"It doesn't taste like Mexicali Soup," said Juan and Manuel, sipping a sip from their spoons.
"This is not Mexicali Soup," said Rosie, setting her spoon down hard with a clang. "this is nothing but hot water."
Everyone looked at Mama.
Mama smiled and hummed the old tune from the mountains.
"You have forgotten to bring the soup, Mamacita?" suggested Papa.
"No," Mama said, still smiling. "The soup is in your bowls. And it is just what you wanted. I made the soup the way my family asked me to make it.
"I left out the potatoes that Maria does not want.
"I left out the peppers Antonio does not want.
"I left out the tomatoes that Juan does not want.
"I left out the onions that Manuel does not want.
"For Rosita, I left out the garlic.
"And for Papa, I left out the celery, the little nothing that does not matter.
"The new Mexicali Soup!
"It is so simple! So quick! So easy to make," Mama said. "You just leave everything out of it."