Carolyn J. Rose
My mother was a nurse and read many books on nutrition. When we were kids, she planned meals that contained all elements from the food pyramid, with an emphasis on vegetables.
Potato chips, cola, and white bread didn’t make many appearances at our house.
Neither did candy.
Sure, it turned up around Halloween, at Christmas, and in the bunny baskets at Easter. But desserts or sweet snacks—and those snacks were pretty darn small because of that pesky food pyramid—consisted of fruit in a pie, or fruit in gelatin, or just plain fruit.
My grandmothers, however, often had cookies or cake, and they had candy every day of the year. They had it right out in the open, in their living rooms, where anyone who came to visit could see it. One kept butterscotch bits and caramels in a crystal dish with a heavy lid. The other stored mixed candies in an inlaid box someone had brought her from Brazil. The top featured butterfly wings pressed beneath glass.
That lid often seemed more enticing and interesting than the contents of the box. The candy wasn’t what I considered to be prime. Oh, there were mints, and sometimes spicy gumdrops, and almost always chunks of black licorice. But digging through the box in search of chocolate was usually an exercise in futility.
It was also an exercise in learning about manners, hygiene, and how germs spread. “Are your hands clean?” I’d be asked. “If you touch a piece, take it, and eat it,” I’d be told.
It was also a lesson in playing well with others. My brothers and cousins all knew about the box and all hit it on a regular basis—sometimes as a group. “Don’t be a pig,” we’d shout at the person who got there first. “No fair taking the best ones,” we’d whine.
I imagine there are many people who still have candy boxes or covered dishes in their living rooms. I’m not one of them. First, Max the entitled Maltese would no doubt sniff it out and find a way to get to it and thus require me to make a frantic race to the emergency clinic to have his stomach emptied. Second, I don’t trust myself to pass a dish of candy without relieving it of some of its contents. Passing a dish two dozen times a day would expand my waistline. And it doesn’t need expanding.
This is not to say that candy isn’t welcome in our home. We buy dark chocolate bars, stash them out of sight, and take segments now and then. On low-stress days, I may not eat any. On days of higher stress—particularly those when I’m subbing for challenging classes—a single segment isn’t enough.
On those days I think of my mother. She loved chocolates and, after we were all grown and gone, often indulged. When she found a good deal, would buy a pound or two. She’d eat a few and then ask my father to hide the rest for a few days and save her from herself. He’d do his best, but she was as experienced at hunting as he was at hiding, and she often said, “He didn’t do a good job. It took me only an hour to find them.”
Their house has been sold twice since they died, but sometimes I wonder if there isn’t a bag of chocolates hidden behind a baseboard or stashed high on a rafter. I like to imagine my mother is still searching for it, and my father is smiling and shaking his head when she asks if she’s hot or cold.