I know you remember being sick and wanting nothing more than mom’s chicken soup. Something about it healed you. On days when the weather was bad or just too cold, that same chicken soup warmed you up nicely. I don’t know why, but it always did the trick.
In 1993, Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen used the same idea to create a healing for the spirit. They published the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book. “They wanted it to soothe and provide comfort, just like their grandmothers’ cooking,” the history goes. Today, that book series has 250 different books with more than 11 million copies sold. It’s become the best selling trade paperback book series of all time.
Why is it that this particular book has been so successful through the years? I think it’s because the books are a collection of stories from real people who have experienced something traumatic or difficult and overcame it. They are stories of hope and a future to those who need to be inspired in the moment.
Growing up, I had one of the Chicken Soup books. It was probably one for teenagers. I probably had more than one now that I think about it. Anyway, it reassured me, like it does others, that I’m not alone in how I feel. I’m not the only one who cries at the end of a hard day. I’m also not the only one who experiences social anxiety and depression. There’s solidarity and strength in knowing others feel just like you do. Even when the emotions are good or funny – it’s nice to know that other people laugh at the same silly stuff we do.
Monday is Chicken Soup for the Soul day. Yes, the book series has a national day of recognition. Perhaps you can take the day and read something inspirational whether it’s from one of the Chicken Soup books or not. We probably need a day like that to be inspired and rejuvenated. In the spirit of the day, here’s an excerpt from one of the many, many books for the soul:
Sometime during the seventh grade two things happened to me. The first was that I got hooked on salami. Salami sandwiches, salami and cheese, salami on crackers—I couldn’t get enough of the salty, spicy sausage. The other thing was that my mom and I weren’t getting along really well. We weren’t fighting really badly or anything, but it just seemed as if all she wanted to do was argue with me and tell me what to do. We also didn’t laugh together much anymore. Things were changing, and my mom and I were the first to feel it.
As far as the salami went, my mom wouldn’t buy any because she said it was too expensive and not that good for me. To prove my emerging independence, I decided to go ahead and eat what I wanted anyway. So one day I used my allowance to buy a full sausage of dry salami.
Now a problem had to be solved: Where would I put the salami? I didn’t want my mom to see it. So I hid it in the only place that I knew was totally safe—under my bed. There was a special corner under the bed that the upright Hoover couldn’t reach and that my mom rarely had the ambition to clean. Under the bed went the salami, back in the corner—in the dark and the dust.
A couple of weeks later, I remembered the delicious treat that was waiting for me. I peered beneath the bed and saw…not the salami that I had hidden, but some green and hairy object that didn’t look like anything I had ever seen before. The salami had grown about an inch of hair, and the hair was standing straight up, as if the salami had been surprised by the sudden appearance of my face next to its hiding place. Being the picky eater I was, I was not interested in consuming any of this object. The best thing I could think of to do was … absolutely nothing.
Sometime later, my mom became obsessed with spring cleaning, which in her case meant she would clean places that had never seen the light of day. Of course, that meant under my bed. I knew in my heart that the moment would soon come when she would find the object in its hiding place. During the first two days of her frenzy, I watched carefully to judge the time when I thought she would find the salami. She washed, she scrubbed, she dusted.., she screamed! She screamed and screamed and screamed. “Ahhhhhh…ahhhhhh…ahhhhhh!” The screams were coming from my room. Alarms went off in my head. She had found the salami!
“What is it, Mom?” I yelled as I ran into my room. “There is something under your bed!”
“What’s under my bed?” I opened my eyes very wide to show my complete innocence.
“Something … something… I don’t know what it is!” She finally stopped screaming. Then she whispered, “Maybe it’s alive.”
I got down to look under my bed.
“Watch out!” she shouted. “I don’t know what it is!” she said again. She pushed me to one side. I was proud of the bravery she was demonstrating to Save me from the “something” in spite of her distress.
I was amazed at what I saw. The last time I had looked at the salami, the hair on it was about an inch long and fuzzy all over. Now, the hair had grown another three inches, was a gray-green color and had actually started to grow on the surrounding area as well. You could no longer tell the actual shape of what the hair was covering. I looked at my mom. Except for the color, her hair closely resembled the hair on the salami: It was standing straight up, too! Abruptly she got up and left the room, only to return five seconds later with the broom.
Using the handle of the broom, she poked the salami. It didn’t move. She poked it harder. It still didn’t move. At that point, I wanted to te11 her what it was, but I couldn’t seem to make my mouth work. My chest was squeezing with an effort to repress the laughter that, unbidden, was threatening to explode. At the same time, I was terrified of her rage when she finally discovered what it was. I was also afraid she was going to, have a heart attack because she looked so scared.
Finally my mom got up her nerve and pushed the salami really hard. At that same exact moment, the laughter I had been trying to hold back exploded from my mouth. She dropped the broom and looked at me.
“What’s so funny?” my mom asked. Up close, two inches from my face, she looked furious. Maybe it was just the position of having her head lower than her bottom that made her face so red, but I was sure she was about to poke me with the broom handle. I sure didn’t want that to happen because it still had some pieces of gray-green hair sticking to it. I felt kind of sick, but then another one of my huge laughs erupted. It was as if I had no control over my body. One followed another, and pretty soon I was rolling on the floor. My mom sat down—hard.
“What is so funny?!”
“Salami,” I managed to get out despite the gales of laughter that I had no control over. “Salami! Salami!” I rolled on the floor. “It’s a salami!”
My mother gazed at me with disbelief. What did salami have to do with anything? The object under the bed did not look like any salami she had ever seen. In fact, it did not look like anything she (or I) had ever seen.
I gasped for breath. “Mom, it’s a salami—you know, one of those big salami sausages!”
She asked what any sane mother would ask in this situation. “What is a salami doing under your bed?”
“I bought it with my allowance.” My laughter was subsiding, and fear was beginning to take its place. I looked at her. She had the strangest expression on her face that I had ever seen: a combination of disgust, confusion, exhaustion, fear—and anger! Her hair was standing on end, perspiration beaded on her flushed face and her eyes looked as if they were going to jump out of her head. I couldn’t help it. I started to laugh again.
And then the miracle of miracles happened. My mom started to laugh, too. First just a nervous release, a titter really, but then it turned into the full-on belly laugh that only my mom’s side of the family is capable of. The two of us laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks and thought I would pee my pants.
When we finally were able to stop laughing, my mom shoved the broom into my hands.
“Okay, Patty Jean Shaw, clean it up, no matter what it is!” I had no idea how to clean up something and not look at it or touch it. So, of course, I got my little sister to help me. I could get her to help with anything, as long as I bribed or threatened her. Since she didn’t know what the object was supposed to look like to begin with, she didn’t have much fear attached to helping. Between the two of us, we managed to roll it onto the evening newspaper (my dad never knew what happened to it). I carefully, carefully carried it outside and put it into the trash. Then I had my sister remove the remaining fuzz from the carpet. I had convinced her that I was too large to get into the small corner where it had grown. I ended up owing her my allowance for two weeks.
My mom never got mad at me for buying the salami. I guess she thought I had already paid a price. The salami provided a memory of shared, unrestrained laughter. For years to come, all I had to do was threaten to buy salami to make my mom laugh.
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