For a long time, I used to cook little meals in little pots, the
smallest meals that would fill me up, cooked in the smallest pots that would
do the job. I was often wrong about how small a meal would fill me up and
how small a pot would do the job, and when I was wrong, things boiled over
and made a mess of the stove, or in the course of adding ingredients I would
reach a point where the next ingredient wouldn't fit in the pot and I would
have to transfer the whole hot concoction to a larger pot, or when I'd
finished eating the little meal I'd made, the pot would be empty, but I
wouldn't have had enough. Why did I persist in that particular folly,
always making little meals in little pots? I was reacting against my
My mother's cauldron was an enormous soup pot that looked like a prop from the witches" scene in Macbeth. She actually called it a cauldron, and she used it to make clam chowder. She had other pots, but only that one would do for chowder. She could have made enough for the six of us in a smaller pot, and she could have made much less chowder than she did. She would have had an easier time of it if she had, because the cauldron was really too big and heavy for her to handle, but she stuck with that cauldron and wouldn't use anything else. It embarrassed me. I thought it made us look like peasants and made her look like a witch. I wanted her to get rid of that cauldron or disguise it as a planter.
I couldn't manage to tell her any of that directly, of course, so I tried to be subtle. One day when she was making chowder I asked, "Ma, why don't you use a smaller pot?" You see how subtle I could be in those days.
She looked at me with her brows knit and said, "A smaller pot?"
"It could be in case your father comes home extra hungry. Or in case cooking the chowder makes me extra hungry. Or in case company drops in."
"Oh, sure," I said. "In all the years that I've been living here, no one has ever dropped in."
"But someone might," she said. "Someone might. You've got to have extra, because you never know what might happen, and you never know who might come along." "Oh, Ma," I said, and, in effect, I went on saying it for years by cooking small meals in small pots. It was a way of telling my mother that she was wrong, or that I thought she was wrong.
Eventually, after my mother died, I began to see that I had been the one who was wrong. Small pots will do for the cook who wants no surprises, who wants to keep things under tight control, who will entertain no guests who weren't invited, but another kind of cook keeps the door open, welcomes guests and welcomes surprises, and that kind of cook needs a pot like my mother's cauldron. When I realized all that, , I understood that my attitude toward my mother's cauldron and her overabundant batches of chowder had diminished me. I had become as small as my meager meals.
I hung my little pots on the wall, and I went out and bought the biggest soup kettle I could find. It isn't as big as my mother's cauldron was, but it's big enough so that when I make chowder now there's always extra.
My mother's example taught me another thing about big chowder: it's no use wishing for someone new and interesting to drop in unexpectedly and make the extra chowder necessary; wishing won't make it so. So, whenever the urge to make a batch comes upon me, I send out invitations, and I add "bring a friend." I never know who might come along.
Ariane Lodkochnikov is a fictional character who appears in Eric Kraft's novel What a Piece of Work I Am.
Other Short Stories by Eric Kraft