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THE GUY CHRONICLES

October's Promise in a Bowl of Soup

October 21, 1998|CHRIS ERSKINE

The most American month, October is, with three or four major sports all going at once, capped by baseball's little pageant being played this year in California and New York, two of our finest, most American outposts.

June is good, and December has its moments. But no month is as rich and full and promising as October. If you breathe deep, you can smell a wood fire in the distance. If you breathe deeper, you can almost smell the holiday turkey beginning to cook.

Imagine America without October, without college football or world-class harvests. We'd be Norway, is what we'd be. Worse yet, France.

"Nice month," I say one morning at breakfast to no one in particular, because that's mostly who I talk to lately, to no one in particular. That way, anybody is free to answer.

"What?" my lovely and patient older daughter asks.

"October," I say. "I think it's the best month."

"What'd he say?" the little red-haired girl asks, squinting as if deciphering some enemy code.

"He says he likes October," the boy says.

They think about this a moment, then shrug, then lean over their bowls of hot oatmeal, the steam rising in their faces, bringing out their freckles and making their eyes all moist.

Never have three kids looked healthier than now, leaning over hot oatmeal on a cool morning, giving themselves free facials. Never do kids look healthier than in October.

"October is a terrific month," my wife finally says, looking pretty healthy herself.

When the kids were very young, we used to take our vacations in October. Didn't matter where we'd go, the place would be at its best, the trees turning, the tourist load pretty light. In October, every road would look like a Charles Kuralt segment. In October, even the interstates were scenic.

"I like October too," says the boy, who is studying a mail-order catalog, circling items he wants for Christmas.

The boy is a little worried that he waited so long to put his Christmas list together, it being mid-October and all.

"I'll fill it out, Dad," he tells me. "And all you need to do is write the check."

"Thanks," I say.

"You're welcome," says the boy, always eager to help.

"We have any more catalogs?" he asks, as he fills in the address.

"No," says his mother.

"Mom, you have a hundred catalogs," says my older daughter.

"A hundred?" asks the boy, his face lighting up.

I sense a dispute coming on. For 20 minutes they will talk about whether there are catalogs in the house. I know for a fact that there are at least 200 catalogs. And like a White House inquiry, the truth is bound to come out. Then somebody will cry.

"I think I'll make soup," I say, getting up from the table, hoping to dodge the dispute.

"Soup?" asks my older daughter.

"Soup," I say.

It is the sort of impulsive act I am famous for. Just out of the blue deciding to make soup. It really keeps the others on their toes.

"Dad, I seriously thought you were serious," my older daughter says.

"I am serious," I say.

"You don't know how to make soup," she says.

"An October soup," I say. "A big, hearty October soup."

"Mom, he's making soup!" the little red-haired girl says. "Dad's making soup!"

"I think its fine that he's making soup," my wife says. "Your father is a very capable man."

The kids sort of grin at this. They try to hide it, but they can't. Because nothing they have seen so far would really convince them that I am particularly capable.

"He'll make a fine soup," my wife says.

"Thanks," I say.

It's a cool day, so I want to make a big soup, a vat of soup, the kind of soup you stir with a canoe oar or maybe a small outboard motor set at trolling speed.

A full day I'll spend on this soup, chopping and stirring and tasting. Mostly tasting. I'll add extra carrots and extra potatoes until it's a true comfort food, then serve crunchy French bread on the side. If all goes right, we'll have leftovers till April.

"So which way's the kitchen?" I ask.

"See, Mom," my older daughter says. "He doesn't even know where the kitchen is."

"Yes, he does," says the boy. "I saw him get a beer once."

"That was a long time ago," I say.

"It was Saturday," says the boy.

"That's what I mean," I say.

"Honey, take your daddy to the kitchen," my wife says to our youngest daughter.

And the little red-haired girl takes me by the arm and leads me toward a room in the front of the house. It's a nice room. Smells like toast.

"Dad, are you really making soup?" asks the little girl.

"You bet I am. Probably chowder."

"I like soup," she says.

"It comes in a can, right?" I ask.

"I don't know," the little girl says.

"Come on," I say. "Let's make some soup."

* Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is chris.erskine@latimes.com.

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