Only my closest friends and a few family members know about the legendary hobo chili I left cooking in a Crockpot one weekend in Gravette, Ark., about a dozen years ago.
One of my college buddies and his two young daughters were coming down from Columbia to visit Christy, 2-year-old Hannah and I after spending a few days with my buddy’s parents’ home on Table Rock Lake.
My friend said he wanted to stop by his cousin’s house while he was in Arkansas. Not really knowing when my buddy and his family would arrive or when he would want to see his cousin, I made a big pot of chili so it would be ready to eat whenever anyone arrived.
The ready to eat meal proved to be a good idea because as expected my friend and his kids arrived late afternoon after they’d grabbed a bite for lunch on the road. Not yet ready for supper, we all loaded up in the minivan and headed south of Fayetteville to visit my buddy’s cousin and his girlfriend.
Like my friend, it had been quite some time since I had spoke with his cousin, who lived on the side of a hill out in the country. He and his girlfriend were rockhounds who had decorated their small home with the arrowheads, quartz crystals and other minerals and rocks they had collected along the Ozarks rivers.
Their rock collection proved to be good entertainment for 2-year-old Hannah, who couldn’t stop herself from handling all the unique stones. She had finally found something to play with she couldn’t break and, fortunately, didn’t swallow any of them, at least to our knowledge.
We had a good visit at the cousin’s house, staying far longer than we had planned. Heading home under the evening stars we were looking forward to big bowl of chili. As soon as we pulled into our driveway my friend’s two girls jumped out of the van and headed straight toward the house.
As I watched them run off I noticed the living room lights on and thought to myself to remind them to turn them off next time we leave. But as Christy and I worked to unbuckle Hannah from her car seat and gather all her kid gear, my friends’ daughters came dashing back yelling, “There’s a man in the house!”
I didn’t believe them at first, thinking they were trying to trick me but when I walked inside our house passed out on the couch was a strange man. He had helped himself to some chili, using Hannah’s Dora the Explorer bowl, apparently knocked a few photos off the top of the TV cabinet and made himself comfortable on the couch.
A call to 911 brought law enforcement but deciding what to do with our unexpected visitor seemed to be the officers’ biggest challenge. Because he was in a private residence, they couldn’t charge him with public intoxication and haul him off to the drunk tank.
It turned out the poor out of luck guy was just trying to get to his daughter’s house, which happened to be in a town about 20 miles south. He’d caught a ride to Gravette and, thinking he was in his daughter’s town, walked to what he thought was her house, found a Crockpot filled chili, helped himself and made himself at home.
The officers were encouraging me to file criminal charges against him so they could just cart him off to the jail. They felt like they had to do something with him, not just turn him loose and point him south down the road. He’d meant no harm, though, and I refused to press charges. Eventually the poor guy got a ride to a his daughter’s house — in the back of a county car against the wishes of a deputy sheriff.
The chili we never tasted. It got dumped in the trash because we weren’t sure how many cigarette ashes or what else had made its way into the Crockpot. We never heard of or saw the guy again but are glad he enjoyed the chili, which, thanks to my buddy and his daughters, has been forever after known as “hobo chili.”