For dad, life was about overcoming. He came from old money and old ways of thinking. The family tree dates back before the 1700’s. Dad went from boarding school to boarding school and didn’t have much of a relationship with his father. His mother died of tuberculosis when he was young. What memories he had, he loved and cherished. Dad met mom in college. Sheila was a Birkenstock wearing beatnik and needless to say his family was very unhappy about it. She was artistic, spunky and full of Scottish attitude. Mom taught dad to speak, gave him his voice and the stutter all but went away.
As Pritchards our work was our life and our life was our work. There were no boundaries between the two. Dad said it didn’t matter how little we had, we could always find something to share. And we did. It was nothing to wake up to find a new group of internationals washing up in the bathroom and cooking in the kitchen. Dad would often have to run to the airport in the middle of the night to pick up an envoy from places like Cambodia, China, Papua New Guinea, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, Vietnam, the Congo, South Africa, Iraq, Morrocco or Egypt. Refugees fleeing extreme violence. Many of whom had lost their entire families or were in danger of being killed themselves. Telling their stories, sometimes they would cry; sometimes they would drift off remembering or maybe re-living something; sometimes they would become enraged only to breath in deep and let out a long broken and defeated breath. I learned about our privilege and freedoms as US citizens. I learned to listen not only to spoken words but to unspoken language. The latter told more of the story.
And everything we did centered around food. It was the one language we all spoke universally. The table was where we brought it up and hashed it out; laughed and made iron-clad pledges to each other; explored a huge world and connected on a spiritual level with new faces and names we couldn’t pronounce. We agreed wholeheartedly, and we adamantly disagreed. We learned to function; we gave each other strength; we came together and we belonged. If you were in our house, you were family. We were the Pritchards.
Dad’s greatest contribution to the dinner table was his famously spicy chili. He’d fuss over that chili for hours as it would simmer, bubble and spirt. When times were lean and we had no meat, he’d make it with beans and TVP (texturized vegetable protein) and it was amazing. But it was a special treat when dad made chili with meat. The whole house and the yard filled up with his proprietary blend of “who-knows-what-that-is” spices and ingredients. We rarely had milk and butter in the house so dad would make powdered milk biscuits using piles of vegetable shortening.
Dad would make his chili to stretch whatever we had in the house because we'd often have a house-full for dinner. He would make gallons at a time and sometimes he’d make it so spicy you could only eat a small amount or you’d burn your face off. I think maybe he did that to stretch it further still. I can’t handle the spice so I make a less dangerous chili but it still reminds me of him. No matter what was going on, he loved us, gave us strength and held us together with his chili.
We endured hate mail, letters with death threats, crosses staked into our yard. We were kicked, called names and ostracized. The KKK was alive and well in our neighborhood and we were on their list.
Someone tried to smother my little brother by pushing a truck topper down on top of him. Mom found him barely crying and unable to breath. One neighbor named their dog, “Sheila Shithead” and would bring it to our yard, let it off the leash, and loudly call it back. “Get over here you shithead. Get over here Sheila!” The hate was real. Thick like old rancid fat, it was part of our lives outside the front door.
One morning mom was crying. I can’t remember how old I was. But I do remember her saying she couldn’t do this anymore. In the middle of the night, kids had thrown pretend Molotov cocktails under our porch. There were about six or so bottles with gasoline and burnt rags that had been tossed under the house.Why? Why do they hate us? It made no sense, but the bottles were all over the place and needed to be organized. So I lined them all up on the dirt floor in the corner. The next day they were gone.
Dad dedicated his life to public speaking and giving a voice to others, thanks to the confidence mom gave him in college and his determination to overcome.
Funny how there was still one word that always tripped him up. One word he stuttered on about half the time. And of course, it would happen during an introduction. “Hello, my name is Bill and I…I…..I…I….I…” He never fully gained enough confidence to say the word “I.” At least glasses corrected that lazy eye and he could finally say his own name.
One summer day, while he was riding his bike, a speeding drunk driver plowed into my dad from behind and killed him. And from that day on… we were no more.
A year or so later we were cleaning out mom’s freezer and there, in a bag in the back was the very last from a batch of dad’s chili. So we made up some powdered milk biscuits and ate. And for one last time he loved us, gave us strength and held us together.
One of mom's needlepoint pieces
LESS DANGEROUS BUT JUST AS LOVING CHILI
serves about 6 to 8 hungry friends
1 medium red pepper, diced
1 medium pablano pepper, diced
1 medium jalapeno pepper, minced
4 oz pepperoni, small diced
3 lbs lean ground beef or ground poultry
2 cups cooked beans of your choice
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
minced red onion & chopped cilantro for garnish
· In a large heavy bottomed pot set to medium low, saute onions and peppers in olive oil until translucent. Add garlic and saute another minute.
· Add salt, pepper and spices and saute for about 30 seconds. Add honey, soy sauce and tomatoes. Simmer together for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
· Add pepperoni and beef. While simmering, continue to break up the beef for another 10 to 15 minutes or until all the beef is cooked through.
· Stir in your beans and corn and simmer for 5 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking, add more salt or pepper OR give it all the heat you want.
· Although you can serve this right away garnished with a sprinkle of red onion and cilantro, I like to allow this to cool and refrigerate it overnight. Chili is so much better when you give it 24 hours for all the ingredients to make friends. Freezes well.
makes 8 nice sized biscuits
I prefer to use real butter now.
11 TBSP unsalted butter, cut into cubes and kept cold
3 TBSP powdered milk mixed with 1 cup water
· Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
· In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients including sugar.
· Cut the cold butter into the flour mixture with your hands OR a pastry cutter OR two knives. You want it to be like a coarse meal with some pea sized lumps of butter.
· Stir in 3/4 cup milk using a fork until just combined. Don’t over-mix. Add a more powdered milk, 1 TBSP at a time only if needed.
· Drop the dough into about 8 mounds on the baking sheet.
These don't have to be pretty.
· Bake until golden and slightly crumbly. About 20 minutes. If you’re not sure, you can insert a toothpick into the center of one and it should come out with only a few crumblies. These also freeze well.
"Crispy edges and pillowy centers to shower your chili bowl with baked in love"