Great grandma was a spry old bird. She was tiny and sure-footed. She darted about her neat little home. We visited her quite often. Quite often for our family who rarely visited anyone. Almost every Saturday or Sunday we would be at her home or pick her up and bring her to ours. She wasn’t a particularly warm or personable type. She was quiet. She never offered up unsolicited stories of her past. NEVER. It was like pulling teeth.
- Do you remember when the first telephone was invented? -No.
- Did you have a TV when you were a kid? -No.
- Did you have a refrigerator? -Yes.
- Were there dinosaurs? -No.
- Where did you meet Great Grandpa? -I don’t remember.
It was always like that. I found her fascinating mostly because she was a great mystery. She was born in 1898 in New York. One particularly odd Christmas, my cousins and I sat around her feet asking her questions and she opened up a bit.
- She had a refrigerator as a kid, but it was not electric, you had to buy ice from the ice man to put inside to keep things cold. All the kids in the neighborhood would run after the horse drawn carriage picking up the ice chips that fell off the back to eat especially in the summer.
- There was a milkman, too.
- Her father played the trumpet.
- She had a brother and he was as old as she was.
- She never saw a dinosaur.
Whenever we went to her house, she always prepared our family a meal. Usually it was chili. The worst chili in the world. Chili is bad, anyway. I don’t like it. But great grandma’s chili was particularly bad. Even my folks, who love chili, would cringe if they found her stirring the pot when we walked in her home. Everyone knew that it would be a rough night on our own pot. What was so bad about her chili, anyway?
There were the adequate parts ground beef and red beans. They swam in an oily red liquid that tasted like farts on fire. A strange burning sensation would occur at the back of my throat, my eyes would water, and my nose would run, the mucoid drainage mixing with the spicy concoction further intensifying the need to hurl.
Grandma, do you have any bread? -Oh, yes, here’s the bread, honey.
I like bread a lot. I need a lot of bread. -OK, here’s the bread.
Bread helped a little. Sort of soaked up the juicy badness. Great grandma ate the heck out of that damn chili. Seriously, what was her stomach made of? She would get a second bowl and offer another to each of us. A resounding and enthusiastic chorus of “NO! No thank you, we’re full,” would answer her. We had barely choked down the first bowl.
Somewhere around my teenage years, great grandma would make chili for my parents and something else for me. My parents would scowl at me between bites of grandma’s chili and I would smile broadly in return. How did she know? Did my newly developed snarky teenage facial features betray me? I never told her that I hated chili, her chili, any chili, but mostly her chili. I was saved. I was set free from the intestinal bondage. I couldn’t believe my luck. Now she made me fish sticks. The best fish sticks in the world.
Great grandma passed away years ago, taking her chili recipe to the grave. Where it belongs. RIP.