Saturday, October 19, 2013

Dixie Chili

When people ask me where I'm from, I never know what to say.  I am a Texan, but I just can't bring myself to say I'm from Texas since we moved here when I was 16 years old.

Am I from Maryland, where I lived for four years? Am I from Virginia, where I lived for seven years?  Perhaps...these places and times in my life did have a large impact on me.

Or am I from Kentucky?  I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, right across the river from Kentucky.  I lived my first three years in the Bluegrass State, then also lived there for two years during junior high.

My parents were born and raised in Kentucky.  Most of my extended family lives in Kentucky.  But I've never truly felt like I'm from Kentucky, no matter how many times my Dad has said I am.

The years that we weren't living in Kentucky, my parents diligently took us there to visit and spend time with family.  We always stayed with my Mom's Mom.  My Grandmother never got her driver's license.  She raised eight children, including twins.  Sadly, my Grandfather had a tragic life and was an alcoholic.  He worked at a good job and earned a salary that would have provided enough for their family, except most of his earnings never made it home.  He would get paid on Friday and then head to the bars and some times spend the whole weekend there. My Grandmother struggled to provide food and clothing for her children.  When my Mom was 15 years old my Grandmother got a job at Dixie Chili.  My Mom became the caretaker of the home and to her younger siblings, while my Grandmother worked full time.  My Grandmother didn't drive.  Her husband didn't help.  She rode the bus each day, walking to and from the bus stop in any weather.

Dixie Chili is a chain of Cincinnati chili restaurants with three locations.  Cincinnati Chili is a chili that uses cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  It's served at Chili Parlors throughout Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana.  It is served over spaghetti with cheese.

My Grandmother worked full time for 36 years as a "chili lady".  At Dixie Chili the customer orders from the front register, then they pick up a tray and move down the line.  The "chili ladies" are right out in the open assembling the chili spaghetti and coneys.  My grandmother worked for years.  She worked on her feet all day.  She would then get off work, walk to the bus stop, ride the bus home, get dropped off at the bus stop by her house and walk the rest of the way home. And head home to an alcoholic husband for many of those years.

Every time we visited my Grandmother we would venture to Dixie Chili.  She would have a big smile on her face as we came through the line and I'm sure she made our food with extra care.  She also, several times a year, would mail us a case of canned Dixie Chili.  My Mom would cook us up chili spaghetti and coneys and boy what a treat it was to have at home.

Two weeks ago my Mom sent my a package with goodies and tucked inside was a couple of cans of Dixie Chili.  Last night was filled with nostalgia for me as I made Dixie Chili for dinner.

 Now you can have chili spaghetti several different ways.  A 3-way is spaghetti, chili, and cheese.

A 4-way is spaghetti, chili, cheese, and beans.

A 5-way is spaghetti, chili, cheese, beans, and onions. Big A and I made 5-ways and Caleb had a 3-way.  It was so good! And Caleb ate his entire plate of food.

This dinner brought back many memories of visiting my Grandmother at Dixie Chili and lots of happy meals when I was a girl.

I'm incredibly proud of my Grandmother.  She took the life she was given and made the best of it and did what she needed to do to survive and take care of her children.  Her life wasn't perfect.  She didn't have years of plenty and ease and joy.  Her life was hard.  But everyday she got up and did what she needed to do to survive.

Dixie Chili means more to me than just a regional food that's popular in a place I lived.  Dixie Chili gave my Grandmother a way to survive her circumstances and provide for her family.

So where am I from? I'd say the same place my family is - Kentucky.

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