Outside, the morning sun is rising into a crisp, sunny February day; perfect for chili with beans. As I stand at the stove, I am overwhelmed by the stories drifting in and out of my head as I get dinner ready.
First, I grabbed a pound of ground beef from the freezer and remember butchering cattle with my in-laws; how Lee and I skinned faster than the other guys. As it browns, I twist the can opener across both ends of the tomato paste, and, like a push-pop, gloop it into the pot, just like Tante Bomen taught me. "It helps the ground beef separate," she'd say.
Kidney and Black beans, strained but not rinsed (learned that somewhere else) go into the magic black dutch oven. I remember when dad, my brother and I found it in an abandoned campfire ring in the Warner Wilderness while deer hunting back in high school, its forgotten contents reduced to ashes. The patina has grown deeper and darker over the years as I've seasoned it just like dad taught me.
Sprinkling the contents of a McCormick Taco Seasoning packet into the mix, I remember all those days coming home from school to a house, empty of people, but full from the smell of mom's crock pot loving away on the counter-top. She always said if it weren't for that little green pot, with the ivy-trimming, we'd have starved long ago. Things like that remind me how hard mom and dad worked to keep us from understanding how difficult times really were, times I only now begin to understand.
Finally, I remember Uncle Dick's Brisket in the liquid smoke. It's been over a decade since we lost him, but the smell on my fingertips remind me of him as I screw the cap back on the bottle.
I slip the magic pot into the oven to rest at 250 for the day, and soft-shoe my way across the room to Paul Simon's African undertones of Graceland to where Eliza is playing, pick her up, and sway around the kitchen. Will her own daughter's laughter remind her one day of the giggling I now relish?