I was a Senior at Harding High School in St. Paul, Minnesota. I was in a class of 426, or thereabouts. We were all excited-we were coming into winter break. We were exchanging senior photos. We knew that when we came back, we had just over 5 months and our childhood would be giving way to college, the Armed Services, or working full time.
It started with a phone call. A friend called and asked if I had heard about an accident involving two of our classmates and a Junior. I hadn't heard anything, but made some phone calls to other friends. They had or hadn't heard. There were rumors, speculation. At 5:00 it was on the news. Our classmates had been in a head-on collision with a city bus. Jerry was dead and Eddie was brain dead, but was on a vent.
The next day at school there were so many stories swirling around. From reports from the police, friends and family, the story as we understand it was they had left to go grab some lunch. They were coming down a hill and hit ice. They were not speeding, just lost control. The city bus had no where to go to avoid the collision.
Eddie's parents took him off life support two days later. We were all in shock. People our age didn't die.
I was in choir with both of these boys. They were good boys. They played sports, sang, played instruments. They sang at retirement centers. They weren't bully's and they welcomed everyone.
I called my friend Denise who went to a different high school. When my parents got divorced, they agreed that it would be better for me to start over in a new school rather than facing friends who would point and whisper about the divorce. On my very first day at school, I met Denise, Leslie and Erica. They saw me walk into the lunch room all alone and frightened and called me over to sit with them. Denise and I became fast friends. Denise's Mom invited me over a lot because I lived with my Dad and he was gone quite often, either working or celebrating his Independence. We listened to John Cougar (now he is back to Mellencamp) on her stereo. We made homemade onion rings. We hopped on a bus and went to movies out at the mall. We used to drive down White Bear Avenue in her gold Nova and do the "Death Scream". It was like those screams you hear in scary movies before someone dies. We did indeed scare many people.
I called her to make plans to get together after Christmas. She had heard about the death of the boys at my school at the restaurant where she works, as some of the people she worked with there went to my school and some to hers. She said she had her senior pic ready for me, and I told her the same. I told her we spent way too much time with our boyfriends and needed a girls day, just hanging out and maybe making onion rings.
My Dad decided it was easier to give me money for Christmas since all the stores had the huge day after sales. I hopped on a bus on December 26th and headed downtown St. Paul. I made a rash decision to get my hair cut-super short. It turned out cute, but in the 80's we all had big hair. I found a couple cute things on sale and took off for home. I remember thinking my Dad was going to freak out when he saw how short my hair was, so I walked past my house and went to the store my Mom managed. I walked in and she said "What did you do?" and I almost cried. I told her that I wanted to try something new and I knew it was short, but I didn't think it was that ugly. She looked confused. She said that my Dad had called her, asking if she had seen me and that if I called her I needed to call or come home right away. He sounded angry. At this point I got really scared, thinking I had screwed something up. A side note-we were not getting along very good as my future step-mom had moved in and well, it was a mess. All good now, not so much then.
I waited until I knew he had left for work and had walked home. I don't know if I saw the letter on the table when I first came in the door or not. I put my stuff in my room, checked out the super short hair again, and picked up the note from the table. I read it and it didn't make sense. He said that there were a list of people next to the phone I needed to call. He said he was sorry and that he really liked her. (My father has HORRIBLE writing). Then I figured out the word.
Asphyxiated. Denise and her boyfriend Ron were dead.
They had been at Denise's house and wanted to be alone. Her sister Diane was a year older than us and was home on break and her boyfriend had come over and they were in the living room. Denise's parents were in the family room watching TV. Denise and Ron left in his car and went to the parking lot of the restaurant they worked at and parked. He had backed into a spot and left the car running. He had backed into a snowbank. There was no pain. There was no blood or broken glass like with Jerry and Eddie. They simply fell asleep.
I stumbled through the rest of Winter break and went back to school. Life as I knew it had changed forever. I lost 4 friends in the span of two weeks. I had lost that youthful innocence in a split second.
Now, you are probably asking yourself-what in good gravy does this have to do with chili? Honestly? Nothing. However, at the beginning of this post, I mentioned how food can stir powerful memories in us. So can music.
I hear "Up Where we Belong" from Officer and a Gentleman and I'm back in Mike's bedroom making out like crazy, knowing that we will be together forever.
I hear "Wake Me up before You Go-Go" by Wham! and I'm 18 years old at Dibbos bar in Hudson WI dancing with my friends and drinking Sloe Screws. I was 18-I had no taste back then.
I hear "I'm Alright" from Caddyshack and I think of Denise.
When we pulled up to the church for Denise's funeral, the song "Think of Laura" by Christopher Cross was on. The character on General Hospital had died and they used that song. I cried and cried before we went into the church.
We were leaving the church and I hounded my boyfriend (no, not Mike. Seems we didn't last forever) to make sure the headlights were on for the trip to the cemetery. He started the car and "I'm Alright" started playing. I started to cry and then laugh. Damn her-she knew I needed a sign that it would be okay, and here she was coming to me through the radio.
Monday while I was making chili, that song came on the radio. I stopped what I was doing and leaned against the counter and smiled.
Thanks Denise-I still miss you 27 years later but I feel you smiling down on me every time I hear that song.
1 pound ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1/2 pound ground Italian sausage
1 medium onion, diced small
1-28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 cans hot chili beans, undrained
1-14 ounce can tomato sauce
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1 tsp. hot chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Brown all the ground meats, in batches. As it finishes browning, put in big pot and start on next meat. When all the meat has been browned, saute the onions for a few minutes in fat remaining from the meat. Scoop the onions into the pot. Pour all the canned tomato products in, and then the seasonings. Stir together and put heat on medium-low. Give a stir occasionally and press the stirring utensil down over the tomatoes to break them up. Simmer at least an hour or longer. I simmered the pot about 3-1/2 hours to let it thicken. Dude likes it thick and clinging to a cracker.