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Welcome to my story blog. I will post one new story here every day. You are welcome to comment on any or all of them. Enjoy!
                   --Lee Pound

Day 68 - Just a Bowl of Chili

It was more than just a bowl of chili. It was memories of Bill’s childhood on the farm south of Fort Worth, Texas. It was Bill’s mother slaving over a huge pot of chili once or twice a month to produce that silky concoction that burned and soothed at the same time as it slid down the throat.

As Bill remembered it, she never made that chili the same way twice in a row. She was never very specific about what might have changed but she was always very clear about what needed to be in it to make it work. That was the secret ingredient that never changed.

Time passed and Bill grew up and started his own family. His mother’s prize recipe came along into the new family once she grew too old to cook. As she handed the recipe to Bill, he remembered her whispering the secret ingredient into his ear and pledging him to secrecy. “It’s come down from mother to daughter to granddaughter as far back as anyone knows,” she said. “I have no daughters so you get to hold the secret for the next generation.”

Bill knew the drill. He became the chili cook. He shopped for the ingredients, including the secret one. He added them once by one in the exact order his mother decreed. And his family agreed that this was the best tasting chili ever.

Well, one year the County Fair decided to put on a chili cooking contest. Bill knew that chili chefs from all over the county would be competing. Bill also knew that his chili had won a bit of notoriety from dinner guests over the years. People constantly asked for the recipe but, of course, it was secret so he never gave it out.

Bill decided to pass on entering the contest. Too demeaning, he thought. Mama’s chili was the best around. He knew that and he didn’t need a bunch of judges who never knew Mama telling him any different.

Of course, he wanted to see if anybody else had good chili, at least by his standards. So he packed up Ellie and his daughter Jeannie and off they went to the County Fair Chili Cook-off Contest one midsummer evening.

And quite a night it was. The sun lingered long after dinner was done, lighting up the tables where pots of chili simmered. Judges, who ranged from the mayor to the fair board chairman to the woman’s club president, tasted each sample with solemn seriousness. Bill and Ellie and Jeannie followed them and tasted the concoctions as well. Well, Bill thought, some of these aren’t even chili. They’re just pretending to be chili. Others, well, not that bad, but not up to Mama’s standards.

Ellie said, “Not as good as Mama’s.”

Jeannie said, “Ours is better.”

An hour later the winner was announced. Bill agreed that her chili was fine enough but could have been better. Turns out the judges had had a major disagreement over the winner. They split three to two and were still arguing when the medals were passed out. Bill heard the losers grousing in the background even an hour later.

He walked over to them. “Some mighty fine chili here tonight,” he said.

The mayor said, “Can’t believe those ignoramuses voted for her chili over Pete Jakowsky. The fire Pete puts in that chili just makes your mouth water.”

“And other things too,” the fair board chairman said.

Bill said, “You think any chili could be better than Pete’s?”

“Of course,” the mayor said. “Yours fer one if we could just talk you into entering it.”

“Can’t do that,” Bill said. “Mama’s orders. Nobody’s never getting her recipe. You know that.”

“Now where do you hide that precious recipe of yours?” The fair board chairman asked.

“I tell you that, someone would come over and try to steal it.”

“Bet I could find it,” the mayor said. “At least if you’re not going to tell anyone, you might just let more people get a taste of it.”

As Bill, Ellie and Jeannie drove home that night, Bill said, “Maybe the mayor’s right. Maybe we should let more people eat our chili.”

“How?” Ellie and Jeannie chorused.

“Mama said she wanted her recipe kept a secret. Never said she didn’t want anyone eating the chili,” Bill said.

Monday morning he went downtown and found a tiny storefront for rent. A month later, he proudly raised a sign above the door. Not too imaginative, he thought, but it says it all and that’s what matters. Mama’s Chili.

At the grand opening half the town showed up to find out what the fuss was all about. Ellie and Jeannie ladled out bowls of chili while Bill cooked up a storm back in the kitchen. After the last bowl was served, Bill emerged to cheers from the remaining crowd of diners.

“What in tarnation,” he said.

“They loved it,” Ellie said.

And that’s how in the counties south of Fort Worth, Texas, Mama’s Chili became a household name and the place to be Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. Bill was glad he’d never entered that county fair because he’d have had to give up Mama’s recipe for the chili cookbook and Mama would never have abided that.

But lots of folks enjoying her chili? Now Mama would have abided that quite fine. Quite fine, indeed.

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