Best vegetable soup, unlikely dining spot – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News – Mail Tribune

Some of America’s most unusual places to find mouth-watering foods include a Portland laundromat for panini, a New York City car wash for doughnuts and Medford gas stations for fried chicken.
In 1962, the best vegetable soup in Missouri could be found in a funeral home.
My husband had just joined the Air Force, rather than be drafted for the Army in a call-up prompted by the Cuban Missile Crisis. Days earlier, he had left for basic at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and I was lonely. I asked Mom to go on a road trip about 100 miles south of my Columbia home, to the small town of Calhoun, Missouri.
Our favorite aunt anxiously awaited us for lunch at her big, two-story, white home, which also housed her business, Little’s Funeral Parlor. Aunt Hattie, a septuagenarian and a recent widow, had resisted retiring from taking care of the town’s dearly departed.
Feisty, with twinkling blue eyes and a great sense of humor, she always welcomed family, even those who didn’t go to see her often enough. She greeted us warmly at the front door, steering us into the parlor where an open, occupied casket stood among floral remembrances. It smelled like, well, a funeral home.
Similar establishments and their cemetery cousins no longer frighten me, probably because I’m way closer to ending up in both. But on that cool autumn day, I wasn’t exactly receptive to dining in a mortuary.
My mood wasn’t lightened when clearly the oldest, still upright town resident could be seen swaying in the backyard as she raked fall leaves into piles. Dressed in a rustic blue ankle-length skirt and long-sleeved chambray shirt, her head covered by a darker blue bonnet, the lady looked more suited to occupying a box in the parlor than doing garden work.
I wanted to turn around and head for the car, but Mom shot her familiar “don’t embarrass me” glare in my direction. Aunt Hattie ushered us around the coffin into the kitchen where a stockpot, filled to the brim with seasonal vegetables, simmered on top of the big stove. Her secret seasoning (recipe taken to HER grave) made the difference between ordinary and extraordinary soup.
A tiered stand on the sideboard was piled high with pimento cheese sandwiches, and a pink Fiesta pitcher held sweet tea. She pointed toward a pecan pie for dessert. All made for a scrumptious meal.
I tried to savor lunch that day. However, the parlor lady and a woman from the Rutherford B. Hayes era out back shook me up so much that I started making excuses to leave. Mom shot me another glare, stalling our exit for a while.
Still, we left way too early, taking two slices of pie with us. We headed north, leaving behind a second serving of the best vegetable soup ever.
Jan Townsend lives in Medford.
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