Chili Con Carne (without meat); I love all my grandparents much
My grandfather Kenelm Winslow, Sr., was in the Air Force in WW II. I don’t know if he ever killed any “Nat-sees” as he would say but I hope he did. He is still alive and handsome with a thick head of white hair so I could ask him: “Granddad, did you ever kill any Nazis?” But I don’t want to know if my granddad ever killed anybody. I hope he did and they were all officers and bad men but I don’t want to know. No matter how bad they were, they had families too. My grandfather crewed on the Enola Gay. He didn’t kill anyone in Hiroshima though. They switched crews for that. I’m really glad. The emperor of Japan was an evil man and it was good to just get that goddamn awful war over with quick as possible but there were people in Hiroshima who didn’t need to meet the atom that way. Like the mother of this girl I was dating. Her mom was from Hiroshima. I only dated this girl for a couple weeks because I was going to Italy but I wouldn’t know what to say if my granddad hadn’t been switched crews. What could I say?
My granddad told me once that his Air Force/Army cookbook had a recipe in it for Chili Con Carne (without meat). That’s why you should spend a lot of time with your grandparents. They will straighten you out with great stories like that.
To begin with, chili is wrong. The word is chile. Chili is something made up by Texans and they are the worst form of human being in the world. I don’t really think that but I’m from New Mexico so I have to say it or they won’t let me come home someday. I know people from Houston and Dallas that I like real well. I went out with a girl from Austin and can’t recommend that. A bunch of guys from Houston bought me shots of Jaegermeister all night on New Year’s ’87 at Taos Ski Valley. They didn’t even know me and that’s expensive liquer. That’s how great guys from Houston are. If you meet someone from Texas without any accent at all I have a trick you can play on them. Most Texans have an accent. If you meet one who doesn’t, say, “You’re from Houston, aren’t you?” They will say, “Yes, how on Earth did you know that?” I don’t know why people from Houston don’t know that they’re the only people in Texas without an accent but they don’t and you can always surprise them with it.
Con carne you all know—because all you good gringos are taking Spanish in college and taking vacations in Belize—means with meat. So a recipe for Chili Con Carne (without meat) belongs only one place. An Air Force/Army cookbook.
My grandfather is 77 I think. He is healthy and works every day. He’s a surveyor which is a tough job, physically and sometimes mentally. He would live to be 100 but he’s not going to. He still drinks. He drinks more than I do so I don’t think 100 is in the cards for him. The only reason I don’t drink more than he does is I would like to be 100. I would like to be a plague upon my family and future generations. So I drink moderately. I’m actually shooting for 123. I like the number is all. I hope my kids have kids when they’re 14. I’d like to meet my great-great-great-great-great grandchildren. That would be so cool I’d probably die just because I couldn’t stand how cool it would be. Especially if there were about 200 of them and I was still sharp enough to learn their names and what they all wanted for Christmas.
My grandmother Winslow is a trooper. She teaches ballet and she’ll be 79 soon. That’s a trooper for you. She is intelligent and could have been a tremendous graphic designer. But this is part of the problem between her and me. She asks me to help her with ballet sets or designs sometimes because I’m a semi-pro designer and she is extremely busy with her dance school and her other stuff. I always ask her what she wants specifically. And she always says whatever I do will be great. And I do it and she always corrects it from scratch like I was never even there. I borrowed a book from her on design once and she made me fill out a library card on it like I was a complete stranger. One of her college friends came to dinner once and insulted me several times but I took it because I could and I don’t think it’s right to speak your mind to women over 70. I love my grandmother Winslow but we’re pretty different and I’m glad she was my mom’s mom instead of mine.
My grandmother Pond is a big fan of my writing even though she hasn’t hardly seen any of it. She’s the only one in the family who is my fan. She thinks highly of me and makes me proud because she’s no slouch and had a helluva life. She’s 85. I think maybe she might die soon too even though she seems like she never will. That will be a fucking drag. I don’t want her to die and I will cry a lot when she does. She has so many stories that I need to hear first but she’ll probably go and die before I have time to quit trying to do other unimportant shit and just write down her stories like I should be doing. There were so few people in New Mexico back then I bet she has the best damn stories and I’ll lose them because I’m a jerk in Seattle instead of taping her stories in New Mexico. She knew all those famous rats back then when my dead granddad was one of the only two doctors in northern New Mexico. I want to show her more of my writing but I cuss too much and my politics are too Libertarian. I love America as much as she does we just have different ideas about how to fix its problems. I want her to admire me without hurting her feelings. Only an asshole would hurt his grandmother’s feelings on purpose. She is also a great cook and she’s the one who took me in for a couple months when my dad, her son, pitched me. That must’ve been hard for her. She tried, very subtly, to talk me into going and talking to my dad but I wasn’t having it. She made sure I didn’t go to work in the morning without a fruit smoothy and at least some toast. She’d hit me with the breakfast works if I wasn’t careful and got up early. So I really don’t want her to die at all. But tough as we can be, that fucker Death is tougher. Better to be his pal, I say, and just deal with him. Bargain what you can but stay sure to be his pal.
My grandfather Pond—who was also involved with airplanes—is dead. He drank and smoked too much. Everyone is in general agreement that he was an evil man. He was kind and patient with me. He taught me to program in BASIC when I was 10 and other 10 year-olds didn’t know what the hell a computer was and I was programming. He bought me a chess computer and a hand carved wooden chess set from Mexico. If you have ever had anyone tell you that you were the smartest person he or she ever met then you know how I felt when my grandpa gave me that chess gear. He let me fly his plane when I was 7 or 8, I don’t remember. A real airplane. He was flying and said, “Do you see those mountains there?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Just keep steering for them.”
That’s what I did.
I don’t think most 7 year olds get to fly a Piper Cub. Boy, I sure did. When he died I was very confused because everyone said with their silence that he was an evil old fucker dying from all his sin. But he wasn’t evil to me. I didn’t cry the day he died or at the funeral when I talked to his sister (who was a famous writer but only in New Mexico). The day he died was my sister’s birthday, St. Patrick’s day, ’86, and I went to high school like it was no different than any other day. They told me he was evil so I didn’t cry for a man who let me fly his plane when I was 7. What a lousy thing to do to me. I can’t get mad at them even though they never even took me to the hospital to visit him. They didn’t know any better. He never let them fly his plane when they were 7. Just me.
I love all my grandparents. I should tell them that but I don’t. I’m bad that way. I told them once and I figure I don’t need to anymore. Instead I’ll just write a piece where I admit it and hope somebody publishes it while they’re still around.