Back to the prompts. Thank goodness – I’ve had enough of Depth for one week, anyway.
“What was the first candy you ever tried?”
Now that takes some mental exercise. After all, we’re talking over sixty years of candy-sampling. But I think I’ve got it.
As I know I have mentioned more than once, my mother was widowed very young – I was two – but as it turned out, she met her life partner at a cousin’s wedding, a month before my father was killed in a car crash. He must have started coming around almost as soon as my father died, and because, to be frank, my mother had already begun to regret her first choice for a husband, and because she had a young child to support, she didn’t discourage the attentions of this second suitor. In fact, they were married less than a year after my own father’s death, and that marriage lasted just over fifty years, ending with my mother’s death.
Dad – my stepfather – was nothing if not conservative and traditional, as most working-class folks are. Flowers and candy were a de rigeur component of this courtship, and the candy came in boxes, with each piece wrapped in its own individual little piece of paper. Each piece was chocolate, but each piece came with a different-flavor filling – I know there were caramels, and I suspect that a few of them were filled with brandy or another liqueur, because I was forbidden to touch the box on my own – my mother shared her candy willingly, but she got to choose which pieces I got to eat. On rare occasion, she would give me my favorite: chocolate-covered cherries, filled with a cherry liqueur.
In those days, before the Nanny State, it was perfectly permissible for children and alcohol to interact, to a limited extent. At the numerous gatherings of my stepfather’s large Polish family, kids were always cadging “sips” of beer from the adults. However, it was incumbent on the adults present to keep a close watch on who was giving in to the cadging, so I never actually got drunk, nor did my cousins. Nor, for that matter, did the adults; although they might have gotten pleasantly snockered, I never once in my childhood saw an adult who was, as we used to say, “falling-down drunk.” (That’s not to say there weren’t any, as I learned in adulthood, just to say that most of the family was careful not to let the children see them in that state.) The purpose of a beer, on a hot summer afternoon, was to cool off, not to get drunk. And although there was hard liquor, it wasn’t in plentiful supply; it was kept for special occasions, like toasting the announcement of an impending new baby. (“Let’s drink to the baby. Let’s drink to the crib. Let’s drink to the carriage. Let’s drink to the high chair.” Etc. Sometimes I think about that research relating adult drinking to fetal-alcohol syndrome, and I wonder if any of those researchers was remotely Slavic. I’m betting not.)
Back to the candy. I really loved those cherry-flavored candies, but usually got stuck – in more ways than one – with the caramels. Hey, candy is candy. My next-favorite part of the candy box, though, was bizarre, to say the least: When all the candy had been eaten, I got the empty box of little papers. I have no idea why the papers were returned to the box as the candy was eaten, but at the end of a week or so, I had a box full of empty papers, and I would shake it to listen to the rustle. I called it my “pigeons.” For some reason, a lot of men in post-war Brooklyn and Queens kept pigeons, Dad and his friend Steve among them, so from the time my mother began dating my stepfather, I was familiar with the rustle of caged pigeons in the back yard. I should add that my mother hated the pigeons – in the early years, she and my stepfather had more arguments about those pigeons than about anything else – but Dad kept his pigeons until I was a teenager. And when I was a very little girl, it was understood that those empty boxes of candy were my turf, a little girl’s “pigeons.” It’s amazing how creative you can get when you’re poor.