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As Close To Death As They Come

 

When the late grandma Seydee Sedit-Best was eulogized at the Boyardee funeral home, there were many who shed tears for this pioneer. She was a philologist and Biochemist educated at Oxford who was well known for translating many cookbooks into French. A life well lived, her crowning achievement was her recipe for mystic chicken soup.  She had been struggled for years, using precise and painstaking research, documenting her groundbreaking discovery in her first book, A Lil’ Bit Of This And A Lil’ Bit Of That, on the new york best seller list for three consecutive years.

She was born on December 31, 1899 and died January 22, 2001, living in three centuries and two millenniums and she never let anyone forget it, for she was like one of her soup ingredients, an old hen, as close to death as they come before being cut down and plucked after  a century.  She had built a reputation for being a healer,  as her false teeth glared, immersed in a glass of brown water on top of the coffin covered with the flag of France.

As I glanced at the teeth, recollections, long submerged, rose to the surface. My first memories of Sedyee now held the answer to a family mystery. I was distantly related to her and now sat in the second row to the left of the hand crafted box carved from a tree that grows only in the forest just north of Dijon, France.

Seydee was still alive and perky when I grew up. I remember her in the living room, declaring that the mystic receipe had transcendental properties. From my part, whether this was true, not or just a crock was always a point of contention. I never believed her because she never came off as the scientific type, but rather with the essence of a peasant immigrant who migrated from an obscure village of France and always seemed a bit odd resembling more a character in a Parisian fairy tale, so I never took very her seriously. Little did I know about who she really was until her papers were found buried in the backyard, dug up by our beloved family dog, Mustard, a canine that was bred in the famous Dog farms of Dijon and whose descendants were sent to the royal houses of Europe as companions first to Queen Victoria then her many children, married to most of the major houses of European royalty .

Then there were her medals we found in an old shoe box in her closet next to the numerous girdles she washed by hand and kept hidden behind the wood paneled door next to the portrait of  Empress Josephine. France had bestowed her the grand legion of honor with the grade of chevalier in 1956. Two years later Italy awarded her the Knight Grand Cross of the order of merit.  Also found was an ornate scroll written in calligraphy of her nomination for the Nobel prize in Biochemistry. The day her shoe box was discovered my family and I  sat on the table and looked at each other and said, “Who new.”

Grandma Seydee had always said that the event making it possible to find the answer to her recipe came from an ancient Tibetan text she discovered quite accidentally in the old Strands Book Store on Broadway and twelfth street just south of New York’s Union Square while doing her doctoral dissertation on Medicinal Elements Of Mushrooms And Herbs. Her theory was simple: there was a direct correlation between the mode of delivery of herbs and their potency in the body.

Her scientific approach was highly controversial, and she was dismissed by her contemporaries “as a tribal medicine woman who plucked mushrooms in to basket, one marked poisonous and the other,  edible but hallucinogenic.” Her theories however were never disproved, and by using Vitamin B-12 as a baseline comparison, she speculated about how her chicken soup would bring someone back from the brink of death. From her experimental techniques she came to several clues about various components of long life in her first major paper, Vitamin B-12 Levels , Sleep Deprivation and Dreams. In the paper she claimed  Its well known that taking vitamin B-12 was poorly absorbed in the gut to be of any value. Injecting it directly into the blood stream yielded much better results. Perhaps. her hypothesis followed,  smoking herbs or using them as ingredients in soup were far more effective. Unfortunately, she experimented on herself, which resulted in some mental confusion that raised many questions about her methods and effected her reputation within the scientific community. Some of her peers claimed she was too addicted to her own methods to be truly objective about her research or the conclusions she drew from the results.

During the early part of her life Grandma Seydee traveled across Asia, India and the Near East. Her father had been a traveling Buddhist monk who by happenstance met her mother one day at an outdoor Paris Flea Market where they eventually married. In an unpublished book, he said, “When I saw the way she carried the chickens by their neck, I instantly fell in love,”  and Seydee was born seven months later. Perhaps this was the first indication that chicken was her destiny and in her blood.

Her father was simply called He as his full name was unpronounceable in French  He was well known in many ancient monasteries across China, and He left her the only copy of his unpublished autobiography, Mystic Curiosities And Inventions with several clues underlined using invisible ink. One was a hand drawn map of the upper Siang valley in Tibet.

As a child, He took little Seydee to The Bronx Botanical Gardens, and among the numerous rose bushes that bloomed in early May, while teaching her to meditate, he first told her the story of his ancestor Miri, shaman of the Adi people. The medicine woman was long lived, but myth and legend still resonates within hundreds of tribes that exist to this day. Her name was also found etched on walls of many underground caves discovered in the Gobi desert of Mongolia that were long rumored to house the remnants of scrolls rescued by monks from the Alexandrian Library before it was burned.

When she was in Egypt studying meditation in one of the secret chambers of the great pyramids   she met Akmid Sedit who became her professor in the mystic arts and her first husband. Together, as man and wife they studied many degrees of Freemasonry and had a shared interest in Herbology experimenting with many mushrooms from a variety of cultures until his untimely death. After the mourning period, Seydee was determined to follow in Akmid’s footsteps which led her to the first two major ingredient of chicken soup: water and chicken; although she reasoned that water was in everything and therefore  a medium for soup rather than a true ingredient. However,  chicken was more specific and when she used different kinds cooking chickens, she realized in order to cure sick people, an old hen had to be used, “as close to death as they come.” This became her mantra that set her on the path of  her most important discovery: Grandma Seydee’s Mystic Chicken Soup.

Its clear there was more to grandma Seydee then the appearance an old bent woman who wore black orthopedic shoes and had purple tinted hair, always in the kitchen struggling with an old hen mumbling to herself incoherently.