I Want Candy. (For J.)
I was raised in a mostly candy-free environment, which is not to say that I grew up without junk food. There were usually potato chips in the pantry (always Tim's Cascade; in later years Kettle Chips in various flavors) along with an assortment of cookies (from Pepperidge Farm or LU) which frequently appeared in my lunchbox. Certainly by now I have drunk enough chocolate milk made with Nestlé Quik to, as they say, float a battleship. But candy was another story. When I say candy, I mean candy, not fancy chocolate truffles that cost as much as their fungal namesakes, packaged in beautiful boxes that might as well hold jewels, or costly leather wallets and fancifully enameled keychains. I mean candy such as what is artfully arranged in cardboard boxes by the cash register, drawing the eye and the wallet as (or perhaps more) effectively than the boldly headlined tabloids that scream at you as you wrestle the contents of your basket (and perhaps a child or three) onto the conveyor belt.
I suppose my childhood was not as candy-free as I like to tell people. There were Tic-tacs in the pantry, boxes and boxes of them, cool mint or sweet orange, or rolls of Mentos with their hard candy shell and chewy interior, which I nearly always carried in my backpack at school. When I eat them now the years fall away and I am back in my childhood again, as I do whenever I come across Andes chocolate mints. Sometimes there would be a tub (from Costco) of those in the basement pantry, and I would sneak downstairs and abstract a few at a time, eating them secretly in bed. Or I would place one on my pillow, pretending that I was in a fancy hotel, the kind that puts little candies on the pillow when they turn down your bed for the night.
Candy was Halloween, when the costume came off and the pillowcase bag or plastic pumpkin was emptied onto the living room floor, my dog circling around suspiciously as I sorted through the evening's haul. I would (at least this is how I remember it, and it's certainly how I intend to deal with any children I might have in the future) be allowed to keep certain favorites, and the rest was given away (along with any other leftover candy we had given to trick-or-treaters) to my father's lab. Candy was Milky Way bars, all caramel and nougat (and which I preferred to Snickers), or Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I loved Nestlé Crunch bars, the crispy rice and sweet milk chocolate, and Hershey's bars, plain or with almonds. I didn't like Starbursts, or the hard candies, or Skittles, but I love the tart Sweetarts, which I ate one by one, from their cellophane tubes.
I loved M&M's, plain and peanut, and nearly died of happiness when last Christmas came around and brought mint-chocolate ones. Christmas also brought Ferrero-Rocher chocolates, all hazelnut and chocolate around a fragile cookie shell, with more chocolate and a whole hazelnut inside. I would eat the chocolate-hazelnut shell first, cracking it carefully with my teeth and stripping it away, much as I would eat the almond-chocolate shell off my Almond Roca (another holiday sweet) before crunching on the toffee inside. I loved toffee, especially chocolate covered toffee, like the contraband Skor bars I sometimes bought on unsupervised trips to the grocery store, along with bags of Werther's originals in their gold wrappers. I would eat them in class, slowly, letting the caramel sweetness melt away on my tongue.
When I was young and we were on holiday trips involving layovers en route to our destination, I looked forward to triangular bars of Toblerone, the big ones that were almost as long as my forearm (or so it seemed). I would save them for the flight, or as a midnight snack when I woke up in a jetlagged fog, starving and thirsty, groping my way in the dark and fumbling quietly with the foil wrapper, pouring myself a glass of mineral water to drink with my dark chocolate sprinkled with bits of crunchy nougat. Even now I can never bring myself to buy Toblerone bars anywhere except for before an international flight. They just don't taste the same.
Another thing that just doesn't taste the same is chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, which only appeared at holidays or when someone had just returned from Hawaii, bearing a flat box filled with chocolate-covered macadamia nuts rustling in their dark brown paper cups. I had to walk up a long flight of concrete steps on my way home from school, and one day my mom greeted me at the top, bearing two chocolate-covered macadamia nuts (still in their paper cups) which she had saved, just for me (the rest had gone to far more deserving co-workers). They have never tasted as good to me since, and they never will.