Last night as I was pacing the kitchen, waiting for the broccoli to become “tender-crisp” without plummeting over the edge into “muddy yard waste” I found myself rummaging through the pantry, looking for sweets.
We have a not insignificant amount of Halloween candy leftover from, you guessed it, Halloween, and the miniature gold-edged bag of tiny Haribo gummy bears caught my eye. They were delicious, by the way. I eat them orange first, then yellow, then red, then green, then white. There are far too few white gummy bears, in my opinion.
I haven’t had a gummy bear in, what, a billion years? No, I can pinpoint it exactly: middle school. Because the instant the first gummy bear broke on my tongue, I was plunged back to the days when, instead of taking the bus home, I would walk to my mom’s office. What a walk, for an 11- to 13-year-old – two miles by car. It must have seemed like a thousand miles by foot. First, I’d cut through the residential area around the middle school, then walk through the park, then up past the cemetery. Then I’d cut through a grassy area that ran behind the football field, cut down a steep hill via some meandering paths that may well have been cut into the hillside by water, then head north through more residential areas to the small business district in the center of town. That’s where my mom’s law practice was, and she’d let me do my homework in the basement law library as long as I was quiet and respectful to the other lawyers.
Now we get to the candy part.
Her office was next door to a donut shop, and for some reason it sold gummy bears in little cellophane bags, cinched shut by red tape. I think you could get an entire bag for a dollar. Maybe it was even less. (Past Me did not know to make a note of it.) All I knew was I had a couple dollars in my pocket and wanted to spend them on candy. I’d sometimes buy a donut and a Sprite instead, or too. Occasionally I’d meet a friend there, and she’d have an Italian ice, which sounded exotic but tasted too much like soda water for my taste.
The law office basement also housed a sort of break room, where I mixed myself coffee and powdered creamer and packets and packets of sugar. Sitting between the sink and the coffee maker was a box of various delights – chips and candy bars and trail mix and the like – that could be your very own by shoving 50 cents or a rectangled dollar bill into a slit at the back of the box. Some days when I didn’t get the gummy bears, or they didn’t fill me up, I’d buy a Butterfinger. Or a Fifth Avenue Bar. I was always suspicious of the Watchamacallit, the confection with the tantalizing commercials that didn’t sound all that great on the package description.
In the summer, I’d sometimes spend days at my friend K’s house. We’d ride our bikes or roller blade or giggle over boys. There was a convenience store a few blocks from her house – not that everything wasn’t a few blocks from everything else – and it sold candy by the penny. You could 100 Swedish Fish or 100 Sour Patch Kids for a buck. Which I did, as often as possible.
Is that where I discovered Zotz? Hard candies that exude a sour fizz when you reach the middle. I know I experimented with the chocolate Charleston Chews. And fell in love with Laffy Taffy – and discovered that I despised its cousin, Airheads. Put a king size grape Laffy Taffy bar in the freezer and you had a delicious melt-in-your-mouth snack for days.
Never one for chocolate, I would gorge myself on Pixie Sticks and Lemonheads and Alexander the Grape and the sour apple version of that candy. And also: Jolly Ranchers. Candy corn. Those little wax bottles of sugar water. Lik a Dip, or whatever ridiculous name accompanied the candy spoon you could dip into various packets of flavored sugar.
Gum was my second choice, after candy: Hubba Bubba and Big League Chew and Crybabies and Fruit Stripe and all the pungent flavors of Bubblicious in the world. (Snappin’ Sour Apple was my jam back then; during car trips, my dad would yell at me to stop blowing bubbles because it stank up the car.) I loved Blow Pops best of all: the perfect combination of hard candy and bubble gum.
In high school, a bunch of kids went through a phase where those sour caramel apple lollipops were “in,” and I must have eaten one every day. Oh! And my best friend and I spent our entire freshman year eating Peanut Butter M&Ms for lunch, alongside our cafeteria-made nachos (chips with a mucousy layer of nacho cheese).
At some point, I became obsessed with these teeny candies called Tart n’ Tiny. (Oh look! You can still buy them online!) And then there was the friend-of-a-boyfriend who got me hooked on Chewy Sprees. High school was also the site of a chewy peach ring period in my life.
In college, my then-boyfriend (now husband) brought me some candy from Europe that looked like fried eggs: the yolk was a jelly candy, the white was some foamy concoction. I’ve been trying anything that looks similar ever since, but haven’t come across quite the right consistency or flavor.
These days, my go-to candy fix is Haribo mini rainbow frogs, which I can get at the local branch of World Market. Sometimes, I’ll go for Nerds. (Especially on top of vanilla ice cream.) Sour patch kids are still pretty great.
On the rare occasions I’m interested in chocolate, I choose Skor bars. Or Snickers. Maybe Reese’s peanut butter cups. Or peanut butter M&Ms.
It is a wonder that I still have all my teeth. (And that I’ve had but two cavities.)
When I was on my little gummy bear time machine, being transported back twenty-plus years to middle school, I started thinking about how strange memory is. Encounter something out of the blue – something you’ve truly been distanced from – and the experience is transformative. The past ripples in front of you so vividly you might step back inside and resume your years ago life.
But go seeking that thrill of memory? And it fades.
I eat sour patch kids all the time, and they certainly played a much bigger role in my candy-eating childhood than gummy bears did. But because I never stopped eating them, they have lost the tinge of nostalgia.
When my husband and I first moved in together, and had to cook for ourselves, I whipped out all the recipes that I’d grown up with. My mom’s chili, her fried chicken, her mulligatawny soup, and on and on. At the time, it was akin to bringing a piece of my childhood into my adult home.
But now, we’ve made those same dishes so many times… and put our own spin on them, to make them fit our particular tastes, that they are almost unrecognizable as My Mom’s Meals. I think if I were to go to my mother’s house and ask her to make mulligatawny, it wouldn’t taste right. And it wouldn’t taste like childhood. Because I’ve worn it out so much.
Have you ever tried to preserve the past? I have. Years ago when we were still dating, I spritzed a stuffed animal with my husband’s cologne, so I could drink in his scent when we were apart. That elephant just smells… neutral, now. (Well, and it’s now been incorporated into Carla’s collection of plush critters, so who really knows what it smells like.)
I kept the bottle of shampoo we used the first time we (the nurse) bathed Carla in the hospital when she was a newborn. But after a few sniffs, the feelings that used to walk hand in hand with that particular scent, the images of us crowded around a squalling, incredulous infant as a nurse gently washed her skin, have faded.
The songs I’d listen to in the car on the way to work when I was pregnant – they no longer bring back that bursting sense of joy and possibility and fear and wonder and anticipation that they once did.
These tastes and scents and sounds of the past: overuse has corrupted their connection to the memory.
Holding onto things you love, things you enjoy is one thing. But holding onto the past is impossible. Those flickers of time long gone are fleeting. And that’s what makes them so delicious.