Guest Columnist

Ham bone soup and the pandemic

David Gould in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
David Gould in Iowa City on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

When asked to recall something good about his week, Peter paused before declaring, “Well, I made a ham. And tonight, I will be making soup from the bone.” It was his father’s recipe, and one of the few warm memories between the irruptive Vietnam vet and his son. “He was meticulous about the recipe,” Peter remembers. “I thought it might help.”

As the coronavirus tightened its grip on the city of New York, Peter and his wife Sara fled their small Queens’s apartment for Long Island. Peter has been cooking from his father-in-law’s kitchen for five weeks now. “Our goal is to return home in five more,” he slowly adds.

Decades ago, scholars, futurists and government agencies were asked to predict what life might look like in the year 2020. They offered forecasts of 26-hour work weeks, missions to Mars, and lives stretching beyond 100 years. But as John Lennon sang, “Nobody told me there’d be days like these / Strange days indeed.”

Like many academics across the country, I have hastily converted my classes to an online platform, while fielding messages from concerned students. Not only is the pandemic stirring alarm, but a mounting economic crisis is threatening to derail an entire generation still struggling to see their dreams in color. As I wrote my classes, “When the current health crisis passes — and it inevitably will — the world will look much different.” I silently ask myself if we have prepared them for this time.

It has been written that hope and fear travel hand in hand and our fate is determined by which one we choose to befriend. Though I am still in the midst of completing the spring semester, my mind is already in pursuit, cutting through the neighbor’s backyard and down the alley, armed with a tool kit and firehouse … reassuring others that the darkness of the night is also the dawning of a new day.

As I was preparing for bed, I received a text from Peter. It included a photo of a simple bowl of soup, alongside two pieces of toast, on a bare wooden table. The broth hadn’t gone as planned, Peter explained. His father-in-law’s crockpot somehow couldn’t bring the ham bone to a full boil and Peter was forced to improvise. “It wasn’t the same soup I had as a kid,” Peter concluded, “but it was a damn good soup just the same.”

David Gould is a visiting associate professor at the University of Iowa’s Public Policy Center.

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