December 26, 2020 – A nose for sweets.

My favorite movie as a child, hands down, was ‘Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory’. And I’m not talking about the crappy version with Johnny Depp, I’m talking about the fantastical version starring the beloved Gene Wilder. I identified with Charlie and my heart soared at the end of the movie when he and Grandpa Joe and Willy Wonka were standing in the elevator and Mr. Wonka informed him that he had won the contest and the chocolate factory was now his! Oh my gosh! What a prize!! To have ALL of that candy! And to be able to have as much as he wanted, whenever he wanted? Yes, please! I love candy!! Plain chocolate, chocolate with peanut butter, chocolate with nuts, chocolate with mint, chocolate with fruit, dark chocolate, milk chocolate, I love it all!! Jujubes, licorice, milk duds, boston baked beans, red hots, sugar babies, cinnamon bears, lemonheads, sweettarts, hot tamales, mike and ikes. Ok, I’ll stop now. You get my point.

I have always had a fixation with sugar and sweets. I didn’t get much growing up so I was always on the ‘look out’. And it wasn’t just me. My brother Clover was as obsessed as I was. Halloween was probably my favorite holiday as a child because I would get to indulge. And our family didn’t use those little plastic pumpkins to store our candy in like you often see kids using these days, we used pillowcases! That opportunity only came around once a year, so we didn’t mess about. As much candy as we wanted for FREE? All we had to do was wear a costume, go door-to-door, say ‘trick or treat’ and ‘thank you’ and we got candy? Let me throw on my costume and I’ll meet you outside! The rest of the year, aside from birthday celebrations when we got a slice of cake and a scoop of ice cream, or Christmas when we got a candy cane and some questionable Palmer chocolate, or the rare occasion when my mom baked a pie, we lived in a ‘sweets-free’ household.

Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were as close as we got, and that just wouldn’t do. We kids were desperate! I was doubly desperate. There had to be some chocolate or candy somewhere!! I was convinced that if I looked hard enough, I would find some. And in our first house, after my siblings and I looked through countless cabinets and sifted through dozens of dresser drawers, we came upon the ‘motherlode’, box upon box of caramels! They didn’t taste fabulous but I wasn’t going to turn my nose up at candy and neither were my sisters and brothers. And we kids finished them off in no time. It turns out that they weren’t actually ‘candy’ in the traditional sense. They were called ‘Ayds’ and they contained Benzocaine, an ingredient designed to reduce the sense of taste. They were in fact designed for weight loss and apparently were my father’s. I guess they were left behind when my parents divorced. Thanks, Dad!

There was another time, when I was about the same age (around 4 or 5 years old), when I almost got an opportunity to indulge in some actual candy and it wasn’t even Halloween. I literally had it in my hands and was ‘this’ close to popping it into my mouth and savoring its sweetness, but my mom intervened. She noticed me sitting on the floor with a fair amount of penny candy in my lap and asked me how I got it. I told her I bought it. “Where did you get the money?” she asked me. “From Mr. So ‘n’ So around the corner,” I responded innocently. Woah! Momma was not too happy about that. She marched me back to the store and made me return all of the candy and get the money back, and then marched me over to Mr. So ‘n’ So’s house and had me return every nickel. I don’t remember what she told him at the time, but she seemed pretty serious. I think she said something about ‘not needing his charity’ or something like that but I don’t honestly remember. I just know my mom didn’t like handouts, no matter what the reason.

When I got a little bit older, once I started babysitting and earning money, the first thing I’d do is take that wad of dollar bills (before they burned a hole in my pocket) and walk directly to the corner store. I would purchase enough candy to fill a lunch-sized paper bag and as soon as I paid for it and walked out of the store, I began to devour it as if I hadn’t eaten in days. And I would finish it off, I kid you not, before the stroke of midnight. In fact, speaking of babysitting, even when I was ‘on the clock’ I was constantly looking for something sweet to eat. One particular evening, when I was ‘watching’ the neighbor’s kids, I got busy looking through the kitchen cupboards. Where were the kids? No idea, I had my mind on more important things. I just know I looked through every stinking cupboard as well as the refrigerator and freezer and I came up with nothing, not even a lousy freezer-burnt popsicle. That was until I realized I had missed one cupboard.

The cupboard above the stove! Aha! “I bet that’s where I can find some goodies!” I thought to myself as I dragged a chair over from the dining room in order to reach it. Once I stood upon the chair, I was able to access the cupboard. As I opened it, I saw the most beautiful sight! A huge glass bowl filled with candy of all shapes and sizes in the most delightful colors, blue and green and red and orange and yellow! I felt like I struck gold. Did I help myself? Of course, I did! I put my hand in the bowl and scooped out a generous portion and emptied it into my mouth. The first thing I noticed? Even though they looked like candy, they sure didn’t taste like candy! Initially some of them tasted slightly sweet but as soon as they started to dissolve, they turned bitter and tasted terrible! Yuck! I spit them out into my hand. Most of the ‘candy’ had turned white, it wasn’t even colorful anymore. It was upon closer inspection that I realized what I had actually put into my mouth and it wasn’t candy.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that the bowl in the cupboard above the stove was actually a repository for pills. I suspect our neighbors dumped them into the bowl once the pills expired but I cannot say for sure. I’m just glad I had the sense to spit them out before they had a chance to take effect. That was a close call! It serves me right for snooping though, I have to say! That experience didn’t stop me from snooping through my own house though. If my mom brought anything home, I would find it. I was like one of those dogs at the airport that is specially trained to sniff out drugs except I was trained to sniff out anything with a high sugar content. I had ‘a nose for sweets’ that’s for sure! Nothing could escape my acute sense of smell, including the Almond Roca candy that my mom stashed in her closet. I don’t even like Almond Roca! But when that’s the only thing in the house, I certainly wasn’t not going to eat it! Has my desire for sweets ever waned or weakened? Unfortunately, no. Although some days are better than others.

There was one day (a few years back) when I did resist and I had no problem doing so. It’s probably one of the few times in my past when I actually turned down chocolate. When I tell you why, I’m sure you’ll understand. My husband and I, along with our boys, had flown out to California to visit his mother and her husband. When we arrived at their home, they invited us in. Once I took a seat, it wasn’t long before my gaze alighted on a bag of M&Ms. “Would you like some candy?” my mother-in-law asked me. “Yes, absolutely!” I responded excitedly. “I’ve got some See’s in the drawer if you’d like some,” she said. See’s candy?! I’m already drooling! “It’s in the right-hand drawer of the coffee table, directly in front of you,” she said as she pointed. I didn’t hesitate. I pulled the drawer open, saw the box, reached in, and lifted the lid. To my horror and dismay, I quickly discovered that only about half of each piece of candy remained. Someone (I suspect my mother-in-law) had already taken a bite out of every single solitary piece of chocolate. The tooth marks were a dead giveaway.

That was a tough predicament to wriggle out of. As much as I love chocolate and as much as I love See’s candy, there are lines I refuse to cross. And that was one of them. And I had a heck of a time trying to come up with a reasonable excuse as to why I suddenly shouldn’t or couldn’t eat them. “I probably should wait,” I finally sputtered. “Since we’re eating dinner shortly, I don’t want to spoil my appetite.” I think she bought it, she didn’t argue with me. Maybe if she’d cut the chocolate with a knife and I knew they were clean, maybe I would have opted to eat them. But knowing she’d had them in her mouth and then put them back into the box after taking a bite, unh-uh, no way! I know I mentioned before that I used to eat snacks that I got out of a dumpster, but that was a long time ago. And it wasn’t just any ol’ dumpster and they weren’t just any ol’ snacks. It was the dumpster at the Frito Lay warehouse where they put everything that had expired, but everything was still good. It was, I swear! And it was still wrapped in plastic! Hey, I have my standards! What can I say?

What I can say is that, thank goodness, I don’t do that any longer! If I want something now, I buy it from a store or I make it myself. And because I no longer eat sweets, unless my husband bakes a Brown Betty on Christmas day and makes me feel guilty unless I at least sample it, I rarely buy them or make them. It’s too slippery a slope for me. Once I start back on the sweets, it inevitably takes an ugly turn. I end up getting very fat and hating myself. It’s just not worth it. And I have to say, these last few weeks have been TOUGH! Everybody’s thrusting fudge and cookies and candy in my face. Ack! Enough with the holidays already! Can’t we fast forward to New Year’s Day (2021) when everyone’s on the ‘weight loss’ bandwagon? It sure would make my life easier! Anyhow, I think it’s time to go. There’s a pile of dishes in the sink and I promised my hubby I’d clean them. He cooked dinner so it’s the least I can do. I hope what I shared today made you smile. And if I live to see another day, I will be back tomorrow. And I hope you will, too.

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