So have you made it yet? Have you noticed that this chili has–ahem–no chili powder in it unless you tempt fate and deviate from the recipe? It took me years to realize that “real” chili contains chili powder, and even when someone told me I didn’t believe it. For me chili was Grandma’s chili, and it was made of more than just beef, tomato in several glorious variants, onions, black pepper, and (if someone other than me was making it) kidney beans.
Chili was driving from Oregon to Wisconsin in December, feet freezing, car windows frosted inside and out. Chili was turning onto Grandma and Grandpa’s street just as the night was closing in, and seeing their lights golden in the deepening shadows. It was opening their squeaky screen door and stepping up to the little landing where you had to make up your mind if you were going down into the earthen-floored cellar for a Coke, or on up the steps into Grandma’s exuberant hug. I always went up the steps.
Grandma grabbed us, squeezed us, gave us big smacking kisses and told us how happy she was we were there. And behind her I would see her deep pan, steaming gently, and smell the chili bubbling away.
Suitcases came inside and went directly upstairs and out of Grandma’s way in our bedrooms. And then we came back down to the kitchen and there were the Melmac bowls ladled full of chili, and the sesame-topped Italian bread Grandpa favored, and Grandpa himself, in his green workpants and t-shirt, saying, “Well, well, well, look who’s here?”
And I would open my arms to hug him and he’d say, “Careful, I ain’t showered yet,” and I hugged him anyway, smelling of sweat and Christmas trees from the nursery where he sold wreaths. And then I took my bowl of chili, and my slice of bread, and walked into the TV room where my cousins already sat with their bowls, and we talked, and laughed, and watched whatever we could get on Grandma’s TV, and that was the beginning of Christmas.
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