When I was a child there would come a time in the fall when we would come home from playing on an afternoon and a familiar smell would be permeating the household. My sister would wrinkle her nose and exclaim, “Oh, no, it’s chili season again!”
Chili season was brisk mornings where I could see my breath as I waited for the bus, but it was too hot to wear a jacket on the way home. Chili season was that time of year when the smell of burning logs hung thick in the air as I walked home, shuffling my feet through the crispy, fallen leaves. The squirrels watched me warily to ensure I was not spying the location of their buried treasure as they scrambled to store up the last of the harvest for winter. Chili season was when there was always a pot of chili on the stove or leftovers in the fridge.
There are a lot of things I can say to denigrate my father. Most of them would be colored from my subjective viewpoint, remembered as the powerless child whom I was constantly reminded I was. Many of them, even from an objective viewpoint, would be pretty bad. I try not to think about them. I try not to harbor resentments. I burned that bridge long ago.
Instead, if I think back at all, I try to think of the good things. There were some. I survived my childhood so at least that can be said of the man. He let me live. He also taught me how to hunt and to fish and other manner of woodcraft. Though I don’t use them any longer they did make a good base for my survival skills in the Army and I know they are there should I find the need to fend for myself.
My sister might look back on chili season and, still, wrinkle her nose. But as for me, my fathers chili is one of the things I look back upon with fondness and regret. Cooking was also one of the things he taught me. I enjoyed the time we spent cooking together. It was one of the few times we spent together as I was growing up that he seemed to like how I did things. I was not athletic like Mike and he was not impressed by my academic skills. But I could cook, and that pleased him.
I regret that I did not find more ways to spend quality time with my father, but I have happy memories of afternoons spent preparing the ingredients for chili or a thick hearty stew. I liked cooking for my family and I have always enjoyed it when people enjoy eating what I have prepared for them.
It’s chili season, again. The leaves have finally started falling around here, and I can smell the wood smoke drifting through the neighborhood. I just got back from the store with all the ingredients I need to ring in the season. I don’t speak to my father anymore, but I bet I know what he is doing today.