My recent trip to the Texas Panhandle brought back quite a few memories of my youth. Some of those memories I’d just as soon forget but others are food for more stories. One memory is pretty vague though I will do my best to plow the corners of my mind and lay the facts before you as I remember them.
Dad took us to some small town somewhere for a chili festival. Chili festivals in Texas are a big deal. People come from all around and bring their recipes with them. Some of those recipes are downright lethal and a few have been known to drive the average man or woman to incurable madness. Anyway, it is a big contest and the winner of the best chili is a revered title in the Texas Panhandle.
Well, we went to this festival on the town square in, I want to say Umbarger (pop.327 people and four rattlesnakes). I may be wrong though. This was, as far as I can recall, my first chili festival and I was bound and determined to taste every pot of chili I could get to. I remember Dad telling me to just try one at a time with the added warning that not all of the chili there was just plan beef. Some of it might be just pinto beans or maybe even a little snake here and there. He volunteered to pick out just the right chili for my young palate (I was 8 or 9 at the time- I think ) so that I would not do myself an injury.
We walked up and down the line of chili pots looking for the right one for me. Dad tried a few and thought they were too hot for me. By and by, he found a sample that I could have. My brother also agreed and volunteered to get it for me as he wanted some as well. Big mistake.
My brother brought two big steaming bowls of chili back and set one in front of me. I, of course, wanted to prove that I was, by golly, a real man and could hold my chili. I grabbed my spoon and got the biggest helping I could and thrust it into my mouth.
It took about two seconds until I realized that fire was exploding out of my mouth, ears, nose, and eyeballs. My lips were burned completely off and my tongue developed the consistency of lava. This is what it feels like to die, I thought to myself. Through the waves of tears in my eyes, I could see my brother laughing himself silly. I always knew he and my sister had an ongoing plot to hasten my demise and now I knew this was the method they had decided on. I swore to him that I would come back and get him but he just continued to laugh. Meanwhile, my Dad, was chewing my bother out for getting the wrong chili while trying to calm me down (my howling had become a public embarrassment). After what seemed an eternity, the fire ebbed and I calmed down. That lasted only a short time until the chili reached my stomach. THAT is the part of the story that is far too gruesome to tell. Please don’t ask.