You can tell a lot about a person from their mail.Interests and hobbies. Maybe they get a hunting and fishing magazine or sewing digest.Or collect model trains or animal figurines.Home chefs get a lot of food magazines and sometimes heavenly scents waft from open windows at those houses.You can also tell if they’re current on their bills or pay them chronically late.Avid shoppers have mailboxes brimming with catalogs, especially around the holidays.
You can tell someone’s profession by the journals and catalogs they receive.Mailing labels and envelopes can reveal marital status and how many people live in the home.Online shoppers tend to get a lot of parcels.You can guess how much someone socializes by how many Christmas or birthday cards they get.Or how many festive packages arrive in mid-December.
You can also tell when someone’s life changes.One name turns into two.Or a last name changes.On one horrible occasion, the mail hadn’t been retrieved for so long there was no room to add anything else.
You can’t get the mail when you’re dead.
I wondered if any of my colleagues viewed mail delivery the same way I did, or if they simply stuffed the envelopes and store fliers into their respective boxes until they were gone.While it could be a rote and dreary job, it was uplifting to deliver an unanticipated package and see the joy on the recipient’s face.Especially around Christmas. It made trudging through the cold and snow worth it.
I’d recently changed location—moving from the ‘burbs to a more rural town.Which meant I no longer walked my route, but drove it.Years of walking five or six days a week, all day, had taken its toll.I couldn’t do my job anymore without pain, so had to adapt. While I missed the physical exercise, I also welcomed the relative rest.Driving all day sounds like easy work, but believe me, it’s not.I still sort the mail every morning, load it into my vehicle, and have to put the mail into their respective boxes.I still get some walking in when I deliver packages, since I have to go up to the house to do so.
This was my first solo day on a new route, so it took much longer than usual since I was still getting used to the run. I’d done it a couple of times with my supervisor, but the change in routine took some getting used to.I pulled up next to a mailbox and opened it to stuff about five envelopes in.I frowned when I saw there was no room for even one slim piece of paper.The box was fairly large too, so it had been a while since the mail was collected.
Maybe they’re on vacation, I thought.The driveway had several inches of pristine snow covering it. So no one had arrived or left the place for at least several days…when we had our last snowfall.I huffed my breath out in exasperation.Shit.What was I supposed to do?I was running late as it was.Well, the only thing to do was take the mail back with me, so I threw the envelopes into an empty mail tray and put the truck into drive.Alarm flooded through me when I glanced at the bill on top of the pile.It had landed face-up, allowing me to check out the return address.Capital Region Cancer Center.
Remember how I mentioned we could tell when people’s lives changed?Instead of driving forward to the next mailbox, I turned right and headed up the driveway, praying I wasn’t going to find a dead body.I turned off the truck and walked up to the front door, my heart pounding.The walk and steps weren’t shoveled, and the house was dark.Fuck.
I knocked on the door, then rang the doorbell.I waited several minutes, but no one came to the door.The curtains moved, and I looked, hope flaring within me, but an orange tabby cat looked at me, head cocked, and opened its mouth to meow.After waving at the cat, I fished my phone out of my pocket to look up the number of the local police department so they could do a welfare check.
I was about to dial the number when I heard the door’s lock click.Relief flooded through me as a frail, bald man opened the door.He frowned.“You can leave packages on the porch.I’ll get them eventually.”
I wrinkled my nose as the combined scents of cat urine and body odor wafted around me, as if they had coalesced into an amorphous green hand and grabbed me by the throat.“There’s no package. I was concerned when I saw how full your mailbox is.”I paused. “I wanted to make sure you’re OK.”
The man snorted, then held tightly onto the door frame as he battled a wheezing, coughing fit.“I… need… to… sit….” He took two steps into the house, then collapsed.I ran inside and knelt next to him.He was unconscious, but alive.Thank God.
I looked around the small house.We were in his living room, which now looked more like a hospital room.The couch was set up as a bed and trays of medication, Kleenex, and dirty dishes surrounded it.There was a bucket next to the couch that smelled… disgusting.Piles of garbage littered the room and somewhere in the house lurked uncleaned cat boxes.The place hadn’t been cleaned in months.It was clear this poor man had no support system in place.
I picked him up and placed him gently on the couch.He weighed next to nothing.Despite his appearance, he wasn’t old.I guessed he was middle-aged and not far from my own age.
He stirred and opened his eyes. “Wha… what happened?”
“You passed out.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
He shrugged.“I can’t keep anything down ‘cause of the chemo.And I’m too weak to cook or do much of anything.”He frowned and gestured limply toward the mess.
“Tell you what,” I said, deciding to help.“I’m almost done with my route.I’ll be back in around an hour with some soup I made last night.”
He started to protest, but I held up my hand.“It’s non-negotiable.”
He nodded and closed his eyes.My heart broke for the man.I knew exactly what he was going through.
I returned an hour and a half later and backed my car into the driveway.I shoveled the walk and steps, then put salt down.I knocked, then entered the house carrying an armful of full plastic bags.“Hello?It’s Leo.I’m back with the soup.”I walked into the living room.The man was still laying on the couch.“Sorry.I didn’t think to ask your name earlier.”
“Corey.Thank you for this.It’s really not necessary.”
I glanced at the mess surrounding us.“It’s not a problem.Where’s your kitchen?”
He sat up unsteadily.“I’ll show you.”
“No, stay there.Just tell me, and I’ll heat this up.”
“Yeah, OK.It’s right through there.”He pointed to his right.
I headed into the kitchen; it was in the same state as the rest of the house, with dirty dishes piled in the sink and garbage piled on the counters.The orange tabby I’d seen in the window earlier curled around my legs.“Well hello, cutie.”I bent down and petted its head.The cat purred and chirped, then walked to a half-empty food bowl near the stove and stared at me.“Looks like you have food, sweetie.”
I washed a bowl and spooned some of my soup into it, then popped it into the microwave.While the soup heated, I washed some of the dirty dishes, grimacing at the smell of rotten food.I hadn’t made much progress when the microwave beeped.I stirred the soup, and finding it hot enough, brought it into the living room to Corey.“This stuff is great for chemo stomach.”
He raised an eyebrow and took the bowl.He cupped his hands around it.“The warmth feels good.”
“I hope you like it.”
“What kind is it?It smells delicious.”
“It’s a copycat recipe of the Olive Garden’s zuppa Toscana.”
He took a tentative sip, then another. “It’s really good. Thank you.”
“Glad you like it.”I returned to the kitchen and resumed washing the dishes.When I finished that task, I grabbed the cleaning supplies I had brought with me and scrubbed the rest of the kitchen.I had two full garbage bags to take out when I was done.
“Wow… you didn’t have to do all that.”
I turned when I heard Corey’s voice.“I don’t mind.”I took the empty soup bowl from him. “How are you feeling?”I washed the bowl and spoon and set it in the dish rack.
“Surprisingly good.It’s amazing how much energy eating gives you.”
I laughed.“Yeah, it does help.”
He sat at the now-cleared kitchen table.The orange kitty weaved around his legs.“Seriously though.Thank you.I’m mortified the house got to this state, but I haven’t had the strength to clean it.”
I pulled out a chair and sat across from him.“What about support services?The hospital or your doctor should have talked to you about those.”
“They gave me some papers, but I got real sick after my treatments and never filled them out.”
“Do you know where they are?I can help you with that.They can provide you with aides who’ll help with cleaning, shopping, and cooking.”
“Yeah, I think so.Let me check.”
“There’s no rush.You can look for them tonight and give them to me tomorrow.”
He looked at me strangely.“Tomorrow?”
“I’ll stop by after my route and bring some more soup.I put a container in the fridge, but it’s only enough for a couple more meals.This stuff freezes good, so you don’t have to worry about it going bad.”
“Why are you doing this?You don’t know me.”He smiled.“Please don’t think I’m ungrateful.I really appreciate this.Thank you.”
“I’m a survivor.It’s been six years now.That soup was the only thing I could keep down during my treatment.I made it to celebrate the anniversary of being declared cancer-free.”I inhaled.“So I know exactly what you’re going through.I’m glad to help and pay it forward.”
He reached across the table and clasped my hand, squeezing as tightly as he could.
I sat heavily in my office chair and exhaled sharply.November and December were nightmare months at the Post Office.I’d recently been promoted to postmaster, which meant a lot more responsibility than delivering mail.There were days I missed the simplicity of my old route.I jumped when I heard the knock on my door.
“Sorry, boss. Some guy is here to see you.”
“Thanks, Nick.I’ll be right out.”I wondered what the complaint was this time.I pushed my chair away from my desk and headed out to the counter.A red-headed man with a full beard was waiting off to the side.He grinned when he saw me.
His bright blue eyes twinkled with life, and he held out his hand.“Leo!It’s good to see you again.”
I furrowed my brow.Dammit.I had no idea who this guy was.I’d certainly remember meeting a good-looking redhead.
“You don’t recognize me, do you.Can’t say I’m surprised.I looked a lot different the last time you saw me.”He ran his hand through his hair.Then it clicked.
My eyes widened.“Oh my God!Corey!Wow!You look fantastic!” I grasped his hand and he drew me into a bear hug, then stepped back.
“Thanks.I’m in remission, finally.Look, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to have your help last year.I had to come say thank you.Getting set up with supportive services was exactly what I needed to get me through this.”He held up a small gift bag.“This is the least I could do to repay you.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he shook his head.“And don’t tell me it’s not necessary, because it is.Non-negotiable.Remember?”
I smiled and nodded.“Well, it’s not necessary, and you’re quite welcome.”I took the bag.
“Hey, boss!Zach’s on the phone.Says it’s important,” Nick yelled from my office.
Shit.Zach was one of my most reliable employees and wouldn’t be calling unless it was an emergency.“I’ll be right there!” I turned and replied.When I turned back, Corey was walking out the door.
I had to push my disappointment aside as I went to handle Zach’s emergency.
When I got home, I remembered the small gift bag and full head of lush, red hair.I smiled as I removed red and green tissue paper and revealed a gift card to the Olive Garden.I laughed.“Perfect!”An idea immediately popped into my head.While I didn’t have Corey’s phone number, I did know his address. I hoped he was hungry, since there was plenty of money on the card to pay for two dinners, including two soup appetizers.
1 pound mild Italian Sausage
6 slices bacon, cut into 1” pieces – thick cut works best
32 oz Beef broth
1 small onion, diced
5 cloves minced garlic
1 head fresh cauliflower, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups fresh spinach
salt and pepper to taste
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
shredded parmesan cheese for garnish
Brown the sausage and bacon together in the pot the soup will be made in.
Once the meat is cooked, add in beef broth, onions, garlic, and cauliflower. Cover and cook on medium heat until cauliflower is tender, approximately 15 minutes.
Add heavy cream and spinach and cook for about 5 minutes, until spinach is soft.
Add salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper and sprinkle with parmesan cheese, then serve!
*Potatoes can be subbed for the cauliflower, for a more traditional soup.
This soup freezes well and is hearty and soothing on cold winter days. I'd love to hear your thoughts about the story. What are your favorite homemade soups? Check out my pic of zuppa Toscana in the Gallery.