I’d been planning the trip all summer. Wanting to see how Czhilispiel, in Flatonia, had changed since my last visit, in 1981. The short answer is—it was bigger. More chili, more contests and other events: 5-k runs, BBQ contests, 3 stages of live music, parade, carnival, etc., and all of it so intricately organized. Even the big locomotive chugged past as scenic and colorful as anyone could hope for. Maybe there were two trains. Seemed to take a long time to pass.
Inside the large tent, behind the Czhili Stage, toe-tapping country and polka music propelled several couples across the dance floor at three in the afternoon. The judges, chosen now by random drawing, were hard at work nearby, inside an cordoned off enclosure.
My friend Lynne and I sat on a bench while she sipped a beer, and I remembered the last time I came to the festival.
It was the first overnight road trip I took with Leon Hale, the Houston Post columnist who was serving as one of the contest judges. Many of the festivals in the area, at the time, salted their judging pool with media people from Houston. Hale was a frequent choice, since his work then focused on the people and activities of rural Texas.
While he ate chili with the other judges, I poked around among the stalls, enjoying the smells and hi-jinks, and the music. Back then, as dusk approached, the street was illuminated with strings of colored lights, lending a festive note.
Hale had invited me with the promise of “dancing in the streets, beer-can smashing contests, suds-guzzling competition. Sort of a Smalltown, Texas, Mardi Gras.”
I never saw any beer-can smashing or suds-guzzling, at least in contest format. But after the awards were handed out, Hale and I did, indeed, dance on the asphalt street under those colorful lights, and I felt a glamor settle upon us. Like a benediction, almost, to be welcomed into a previously unfamiliar community that has gathered to have fun for a good cause.
We were brand new as a couple, then, and we had no idea of what lay ahead, of how well we would come to know each other, how long we would live together, and whether we would be happy.
That night, however, we had a wonderful time.
“We’ve combined our entries into this pot,” he said. “She’s the real cook,” he added. “I add this and that.”
“He tweaks it,” she said. “Lots of tweaking.”
Whatever their teamwork consisted of, Lynne and I agreed--it was excellent chili. I don’t think I’ve ever had better, anywhere.
Celebrations like Czhilispiel and Round Top’s OktoBierFest are among the most appealing features of our county, an opportunity we have to show off our special individuality while having a whole lot of fun.