Candy – A Sweet Disquisition

By Wendy Lombard

            There are some types of candy that take me back to my childhood. A really old one is the Horehound, an odd little hard candy that I didn’t love, but my dad talked about having them when he was a kid. They aren’t particularly sweet, and they put me in mind of honey and licorice. And cough drops. There was a reference to Horehounds in a story my sixth-grade students read sometime in the early 2000’s. After some research, another teacher and I were able to find them online. We ordered them so each of the kids could experience that old-fashioned candy. I wonder if any of those students remember that.

            Another candy that comes to mind when I think of my dad is black licorice. He was a big fan – so many people are not. We used to save the black jellybeans for him. The one thing I liked about them was I could put some of the chewed black jellybean over a tooth and it would look like that tooth was missing. I thought that was funny. I do like jellybeans, but I much prefer the traditional fruit flavored ones, not the “spice” flavored ones. And I’m not particularly fond of the Harry Potter inspired ones. I’m a little reluctant because of the gross ones that are included in the pack. I never want to experience a booger flavored jellybean. I also don’t love the Jolly Rancher ones because they are too intense, and they are not traditional. My dad objected to calling jellybeans other names like Jelly Bird Eggs.

            Speaking of Jolly Ranchers and teaching, I learned that fifth, sixth, and seventh graders will do almost anything for a jolly rancher. I doubt that teachers are allowed to use candy bribes anymore, but I certainly did. I had a box on my desk that was made of cardboard covered with fabric that looked like a vintage American Flag. I kept that box filled with Jolly Ranchers that I bought in huge bags from Sam’s Club. I’m sure some of those candies were pilfered by a sneaky student here or there, but never to the extent that they were blatantly stolen by a sixth-grade boy one year. I noticed that the box was emptying faster than normal, so I asked a few kids if they knew why. One of them reported that a certain student was grabbing them daily by the handful and handing them out at recess. I confronted him, and I let his mother know. She was the type of mother that rarely held her perfect child accountable and had a hard time believing he was the sneaky little liar I felt he was. She discussed restitution with him. After a couple of weeks of grabbing daily handfuls of the candy from my desk, be brought in a single roll of Jolly Ranchers, mumbled an apology, and tossed it on my desk. (His mother probably bought it.) It was almost useless to me, as the candies were not individually wrapped so I had to use it as a big prize for one student. I would like to think this boy grew up to be straightforward and honest. However, I think his mother was a bit of a hurdle to this. When he was in his upper high school years, he went to a drinking party. The police came and the kids in the house refused to open the door. This mother was outside insisting that her boy was in there trying to convince the other children to open the door and come out. He wasn’t drinking. Right.

            My Aunt Virginia used to have a particular kind of candy in her pocket quite often. Once in a while she would offer me one. Not getting candy all that often, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down even though I didn’t love these little treats. They were okay. I have no idea what they were called, but I remember them being little semi-hard bite-sized pieces that were a dark pink or dusty red color. They were bumpy. I think they had an almond inside them.

            Picture a fresh snowfall that softly covers the bushes and tree branches. Now imagine that there are strings of colored lights festooning the bushes and branches. It’s evening and the lights are on. The colors are softly glowing underneath that white snow. There is a candy I remember from my childhood, and maybe even into adulthood, but I don’t remember when I last saw or had one. I wouldn’t have known it would be the last time or I might have noted it better. It was circular and shaped sort of like a donut with the white around the outside and jelly-like candy in the center. I think the center was dusted with a little of whatever white dusted the outer circle giving it the effect of the lights under the snow. The centers came in various colors. I can most vividly picture red. I don’t know if these candies were just around for holidays, or if I think so because that is when my family might have been more likely to indulge in fancy candy. I’d like to know what these candies were and whether they are still around. I’d like to eat one right now.

            Boxed chocolates are another type of candy that is likely to be around just for holidays. People often have big boxes of mixed chocolates throughout the Christmas season. I think large companies often gift this sort of thing to employees and/or regular customers. We sometimes had a nice box of chocolates at our house during the holidays when I was growing up. These boxes came with rules. Well, they might not have come with rules, but my dad proclaimed rules. It’s perfectly understandable since there were five kids in the family. If there were not candy box rules, the box wouldn’t have lasted long. The first rule was one candy per kid at a time, and a time could be loosely translated into per day. That was a very hard rule to follow because all of us probably wanted to stand by the box and eat one after another until it was empty. Those candies could occupy a good part of our conscious thought throughout the day. Knowing this limit, it was extremely important to get a chocolate that was delicious and not waste it on a maple cream or some such disappointment. This necessitated another candy box rule: no poking a finger or thumb into the bottom to find out what the inside was. That was hard to follow, too, if nobody was looking. How would anyone know who had done the poking if the candy was returned to its place still looking, from the top, perfectly fine? The biggest prize was a cherry cordial. My dad was very good at discerning which ones those were, so he usually got the two or three that were in there. Now that I’m an adult, I know I can go and buy boxed chocolates any time I want, but I don’t. It seems like it would be against the rules, so it doesn’t cross my mind. I go to book club gatherings at a friends’ houses. The fifteen or twenty guests each bring something to contribute to lunch and we generally have great meals together. I remember one specific time that one of my good friends was hostess, and she had a box of chocolates on the counter for the gathering. They weren’t left over from a holiday. She just bought them for book club! Amazing.

            Those cherry cordials really are quite special. It’s possible to buy a whole box of them, which I have done because they are favorite of my husband. They remind me of an even better candy that I would occasionally have when I was a teenager. I would happen to be in town (downtown Pittsburgh, specifically) either after school or on a Saturday. It was simple to get there – there was a bus stop right across the street from my house, and it would take me to or from town for nothing because I could use my high school bus pass. Once in a while, Gimbals would have chocolate covered strawberries. These were seasonal, and the season was short. You had to know they had them and take advantage right away. These were not simply strawberries that had been dipped in chocolate. Those are good, but these were amazing. One of them would take up almost my entire palm. They were like cherry cordials in that they had that delicious fruity syrup surrounding the fruit. But unlike a cherry cordial, they could not be eaten in one bite. The challenge was eating it without ending up with strawberry juice all over mouth, chin, neck, hands, and clothing. Just ask my friend Cindy. She had never heard of them, so one lucky day when we were in town together we went to Gimbals and asked if they had them. They did! We each bought one and went to our bus stop where we sat on the sidewalk with our backs against Kauffman’s outer wall and bit in. We were a giggling mess by the time we were done, but we didn’t care. I think we provided great entertainment for other people waiting for their buses.

            I could go on – in fact, I probably will add thoughts to this later. I have not even touched on candy bars yet. However, sweet as that would be to reminisce about favorites, Halloween, Ma Lagatuti at the “Little Store” – I believe I will submit this essay and work on it later.

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Wendy Lombard