The antithesis of winter’s chill

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

I used to do stupid things like this: In the dead of winters past I might take a notion to strike out on my motorcycle for a ride up into the High County. That was stupid because I had no special winter riding gear. The best I could muster was a heavy coat and modestly insulated gloves.

Wind on a motorcycle at highway speed can feel like hurricane force. That’s great on a hot summer day. Think super window fan.

But the reversed effect in winter can be miserable.

And Boone is particularly bone-chilling. They say the northwest winds whipping down into the valley there can be particularly frigid.

I felt battered and half frozen one time as I rolled from Blowing Rock into Boone and looked for signs of civilization, beginning with Boone’s restaurant row on Highway 321. I stopped in at the old Pepper’s restaurant, at its original location near the start of restaurant row.

I saw on the menu Russian tea. At the time I had not heard of it. But the waitress said it would come hot and I was frozen and I went for it.

The combustion of black tea, orange juice and who knows what else hit my lips and danced as it made its way down to my tummy. It was the best drink I had ever had.

There’s something special about sitting down at the table with something hot in winter. I don’t drink coffee; in fact I eschew hot beverages as a rule. But the right hot drink on the right cold day can make winter, my least favorite of the seasons, bearable.

Here’s how I survive this shivering time of the year. My live-in cook is a wizard. The magic she makes in a pot is a marvel.

In summertime she can come back from the farmers market and concoct a delicious vegetable soup with whatever she picks up downtown.

But in winter she makes a thicker stock and browns some meat along with all the other stuff and whips up a hearty chili. Why they call it chili I don’t know because it is the antithesis of winter’s chill.

Reminiscent of that Russian tea in Boone that time, the hometown chili not only can warm the insides but can cast the winter gloom in a bright, hopeful glow.

If I’ve been a good boy and if the mood is right I just might also get a cake of her moist corn bread baked in the iron skillet.

I’ll take a mug of chili and half a cake of corn bread — if she lets me have that much — and head for the rocking chair beside the comforting wood stove. I’ll turn warm, inside and out, and as satisfied as a bug in a rug. Winter looks in at the window with sad eyes, powerless to touch me.

No one loves chocolate more than me, but nevertheless I find hot chocolate a poor substitute. I keep some packets of instant hot chocolate around, but I never get through a box by winter’s end.

That may be due to the time I spotted at the old Chatham mill in Elkin an offering of hot chocolate in a vending machine. Curious, I tried a cup. It tasted like stale cocoa swimming in lukewarm water. That’s because that’s what it was.

I only worked summers at the mill while a student, and hot chocolate and that hot mill with no air-conditioning were not a good match. The hot-chocolate mix probably had been sitting in the machine since winter.

The coffee dispensers looked well used but the lonely hot-chocolate dispenser was clean as a whistle and obviously neglected. I understood the reason.

Now I’ve gotta go. I’m gettin’ called for supper. What are we having? Hotdog, it’s a big pot of chili. Wood stove, here I come.

It’s going to be a great winter.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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