Jelly Beans

Easter morning Momma woke us, telling us to get up because the Easter Bunny had left eggs for my sister and me to find. We’d hurry to put on our new Easter outfits of spring dress and white shoes. Some years the temperature outside felt more like winter than spring, so we would add a sweater or coat. Other years were rainy, so we would hunt for eggs hidden inside. Then there were the years that were just right – sunny and warm, the scent of blooming flowers filling the air.

Grabbing our baskets filled with green Easter grass, we’d hurry outside. We searched among the clumps of daffodils and irises that filled our large yard, and in lower crotches of the apple trees. We looked beneath the giant oaks whose gnarled, weathered roots protruded from the ground, creating the perfect space to cradle an Easter egg. Before long, our baskets were full of eggs, both hard-boiled eggs, dyed a rainbow of pastel colors, and the brightly colored plastic eggs that pulled apart to reveal one of my favorite Easter treats, jelly beans.

I’ve always preferred chocolate over other candy, so I’m not sure why I anticipated jelly beans on Easter morning. Maybe it was because I didn’t eat them very often. Maybe it was the sweet taste of the different flavors – grape, lemon, orange, lime, and cherry. Perhaps it was the slight crunch of the outer shell that gave way to the jelly center. Whatever the reason, I was happy finding them on Easter morning.

Sometimes I ate them one at a time, savoring each distinct flavor. Other times, I put two of the same flavor in my mouth, creating a stronger taste. I also experimented with different combinations to see what they would taste like. While my favorites have always been red cherry and green lime, I enjoyed them all, happy to take the black licorice-flavored ones my sister didn’t like.

I still ate jelly beans as I got older, and was excited to try Jelly Belly® jelly beans when introduced in 1976, fascinated that they could taste like peanut butter, root beer, and buttered popcorn. Smaller than traditional jelly beans, it was hard to eat them one at a time. The package printed combinations to try, such as peanut butter and jelly, and green apple and caramel.

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Jelly beans took on a different role in my late 20s. I woke up one Sunday morning with a throbbing, pounding pain above my left eye. Unlike any headache I had experienced, the intense pain drained my energy and left me queasy. Aspirin didn’t help, and I could only escape the pain by sleeping. The next day my doctor diagnosed it as a migraine.

It was the first of many, coming every other month and lasting for three days. I tried several prescription medications before discovering the over-the-counter medicines that provided enough relief to allow me to work. I also found that keeping food in my stomach eased the queasiness. What I craved most was something sweet, the sugar perhaps giving me some energy when I hurt. After trying gumdrops, candy corn, M&M’s and other chocolates, I found that jelly beans helped the most.

I still get migraines, but they are less frequent and intense. Keeping food in my stomach continues to help the queasiness, but I no longer crave jelly beans. Since I am cutting back on sugar, I rarely buy them, or any candy, these days. But every so often, I walk down the aisle in the grocery store, notice the rows and rows of candy, and see the bags of colorful jelly beans. I smile, recall enjoying them in my past and think to myself that maybe it is time to enjoy them again. I grab a bag, put it in my cart, and anticipate enjoying the sweet taste of jelly beans.

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Sweetheart Valentines

We were restless first graders, squirming in our seats. Anxious to get the party started, we sprang to action when our teacher told us to gather our supplies.

Taking out an old shoe box brought from home, we cut a slot into the box top so the Valentine cards could be slipped in. I don’t recall injuries, which is amazing since a room of awkward, excited kids were using scissors. Next, we wrapped the box in craft paper, then decorated it with construction paper, ribbons, crayons, paper doilies, and glitter.

Hearts were made by folding a piece of construction paper in half, then cutting half a heart along the fold. When opened up, it made a whole, symmetrical heart – something I could not do otherwise. Paper doilies were glued on in one piece and adorned with construction paper hearts, or cut into pieces and scattered about the box. Crayons added further decoration, as did a squeeze of glue sprinkled with glitter. I can only imagine the mess left for the janitors to clean up later that afternoon.

Once finished, we’d proudly display the boxes on our desks. Taking out the Valentine cards we’d brought from home, we’d walk among the desks, slipping one into each box. Everyone received one, even the snot-nosed kid who was always picking on me. Most were simple Valentine cards purchased in packages. Sometimes though, we’d receive something extra. There might be a sucker inserted into holes that pierced the paper or, if we were lucky, receive a box of Sweetheart® candies.

The heart-shaped candy wafers came in small, rectangular boxes. A window on the front gave a view of the candies, while the back had space for writing the name of who it was To and From. Valentine Day sayings were printed on the pastel-colored candies such as Be Mine, Love You, and Kiss Me. Easy to chew for a quick sugar-rush, you could also suck on them for a few minutes and savor their tangy sweetness as they melted on your tongue. Since there were other goodies to enjoy at the party I usually saved mine to eat on the way home, or for a treat the next day.

Sweetheart® candies are still around, but with a few changes. A 2010 formula change produced a softer candy with more vivid colors and a more intense and sour flavor. The printed sayings have evolved as well and now include Text Me, You Rock, and Tweet Me, reflections of the times. It doesn’t matter to me how they look and taste now. Seeing the boxes of Sweetheart candies takes me back to my school days when Valentines was a day of awkwardly delivering Valentine cards to classmates, hurrying back to my desk to see what I had received, and savoring Sweetheart® candies.

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Candy Canes

There were always candy canes in our stockings on Christmas morning. According to Momma, Santa not only put gifts under the tree, he also filled our stockings and left a candy cane at the top.

Each December, we pulled our stockings out with the rest of the Christmas decorations. Handmade for us by Grandma, we hung them on the mantle above the fireplace waiting for Santa’s visit.

Christmas morning, we’d open our gifts, then turn our attention to the stockings. Removing the candy cane from the top, we’d pull back the plastic wrapper, put one end in our mouths, and enjoy the peppermint sweetness as we emptied our stockings. Playing with our gifts, we’d continue sucking on the candy canes, which grew shorter by the minute. The last of them would be in our mouths as we helped pick up discarded wrapping paper and bows with sticky fingers.

Years passed. My sister and I grew older and learned who actually put gifts under the tree and filled our stockings. Later, we moved away, got married and had children, events that added more stockings to the mantle. Momma and Daddy moved to a new house, one with a mantle large enough to accommodate all the stockings. We still woke on Christmas morning to find a candy cane in each stocking. It was a tradition we loved and expected.

Then one year, Momma called me and my sister aside, lines of frustration showing on her forehead. “I need you to go to the store.”

What’s up?”

I can’t find the candy canes anywhere.”

Do you want us to help you look?”

I’ve already looked everywhere! Maybe I forgot to buy them after all.”

We told her not to worry about it, grabbed car keys and headed out. We fought a packed parking lot, a crowded store, and a long wait in the check out line to keep the tradition alive another year.

After I divorced, I didn’t bother buying candy canes at Christmas. I was alone some Christmas mornings and had no place to hang stockings. Besides, Momma had them in the stockings at her house. Even after meeting my boyfriend, and moving in together, I still don’t buy candy canes. He isn’t concerned about decorating for Christmas and he doesn’t like sweets, so there was no reason to renew the tradition.

But now he has a grandson, and I’m thinking the time may be right. I’ll make a stocking, find a place to hang it, and put in a candy cane on Christmas morning, saying that Santa left it just for him.

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Candy Corn

Candy Corn

Candy Corn

The lidded candy dish sat on the piano in my grandmother’s living room. It’s dark blue glass took on an iridescent glow when the light hit it. As pretty as it was, it was the treasure inside that I anticipated.

Grandmunie lived 300 miles away. After the long trip in the car, we’d pull into her driveway and tumble out to receive her hugs and kisses. As soon as she finished, I would pull away and run inside to see if she remembered. Climbing up the piano bench, I’d carefully raise the lid of the candy dish, look inside and smile. It was there, candy corn. I’d put a piece or two in my mouth, savoring the sweetness of the candy and the satisfaction that she had remembered.

I don’t know how the tradition began. Did she put it there because I loved it, or did I stumble across her stash and discover a new candy? I don’t even remember if my younger sister liked it or not. What I do remember is how special I felt because she always had candy corn in the candy dish when I arrived.

Even today, the sight of the orange, yellow and white triangles takes me back to my childhood, and the special connection I had with my grandmother Gladys*.

*I was named after both my grandmothers: my first name Gladys from my paternal grandmother, and my middle name Lou from my maternal grandmother (Myrtle Lou).

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