For the first 15 years of my life, give or take, my mother was on a quest to make the chili my dad was seeking. The funny part of this was that the man was rarely to never home for dinner, so the idea of making something special FOR him for dinner seems odd to me now. Maybe it was her way to try to get him out of the bars and the strip clubs and to just COME THE HELL HOME,sometimes. Or maybe she just loved him and wanted him to be happy. Possibly it was some combination of the two of those things.
I’m not mad about it – the lack of him coming home. First of all I’m 50 and I’m beyond being mad at my dad for his shortcomings. Secondly, life was just calmer usually when he wasn’t around – especially later in my life at home. I don’t have a lot of deep seeded anger or frustration. That’s just how it was and it’s over now, and we all survived with some dark coping mechanisms but still, we survived.
But the chili, you see, that was a thing.
About every other time she’d make it, she’d make it with a variation and present it to him. With macaroni, without macaroni, with and without beans, with beef or without – every iteration was worked through as she sought to make the chili that eluded him, the one he kept telling her he’d had somewhere and was what he was looking for.
Every time she made it she was CLOSE so close. He’d rave about how good what she made was, yet, it wasn’t quite the chili he remembered from somewhere. Maybe it was from the Big Shoe’s BBQ in Terre Haute?
He couldn’t remember where he’d had it. But that chili, it was so good. It was amazing.
One day she did it, she landed on the flavor profile he was seeking. She HAD CREATED THE CHILI OF HIS DREAMS. He went on and on and she smiled like she knew all along that she’d gotten it right. The perfect chili.
It was the chili she’d serve from then on.
One night my mother and I were out to eat – which was unusual. We had stopped at one of our favorite places and for a change I got chili, I was usually a burger and fries connoisseur so I was branching out.
I dumped my oyster crackers on top, de rigueur at this establishment and settled into my dinner when I realized that that first bite what I was eating- my mother’s chili.
“Mom! Your chili tastes JUST LIKE THIS!” I declared super excited at my discovery.
“I know,” she said wistfully. “I’ve spent 15 years trying to recreate Steak n Shake chili.”
Good grief, Dad.