Jelly Beans

Easter morning Momma would wake us, telling my sister and me to get up because the Easter Bunny had come and left behind eggs for us to find. We’d hurriedly get dressed in our new Easter outfit of spring dress and white shoes. Some years the temperature outside felt more like winter than spring, and we would add a sweater or coat; other years were rainy, meaning the eggs had been hidden inside. Then there were the years that were just right – sunny and warm, the air filled with the scent of blooming spring flowers.

Grabbing our Easter baskets filled with green Easter grass, we’d excitedly hurry outside, and begin searching our large yard among the clumps of daffodils, in lower crotches of the apple trees, and beneath the giant oaks whose gnarled, weathered roots protruded from the ground, creating the perfect space to cradle an Easter egg. It didn’t take us long to fill our baskets with hard-boiled eggs, dyed a rainbow of pastel colors, and for the more brightly colored plastic eggs that pulled apart to reveal jelly beans, one of my favorite Easter treats.

I’ve always been more of a chocolate eater when it comes to candy, so I’m not sure why I looked forward to jelly beans. 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 always looked forward to finding them on Easter morning.

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

As my sister and I got older, hunting eggs was replaced by receiving an Easter basket holding a chocolate Easter Bunny and plastic eggs filled with jelly beans. I occasionally ate jelly beans occasionally after that, especially after Jelly Belly jelly beans were introduced in 1976. I was fascinated that jelly beans really could taste like peanut butter, root beer, and buttered popcorn. Smaller than traditional jelly beans, it was easy to put several in your mouth at once, the package even giving flavor combinations to enhance the experience.

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One Sunday in February when I was 28, I woke up with a throbbing, pounding pain above my left eye. Unlike any headache I had ever experienced, the intense pain drained my energy and left my stomach queasy. Aspirin didn’t help, and I could only escape the pain by going to sleep. 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. After trying several prescriptions, I eventually found that over-the-counter medicines provided enough relief to allow me to work and 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 so badly, and after trying gumdrops, candy corn, M&M’s and other chocolates, I found that traditional jelly beans provided the most relief. And it had to be traditional jelly beans, not Jelly Belly jelly beans, the flavors from my past giving the most relief.

My migraines still come, but with less frequency and intensity. I still find it helps to keep food in my stomach, but no longer crave jelly beans. I am also trying to cut back on sugar, so 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 hanging there. I smile, recall enjoying them on Easter mornings, and also finding relief from migraine pain. Maybe it is time for a treat, I think. So I grab a bag, put it in my cart, and look forward to enjoying the sweet taste of jelly beans.

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Sweetheart Valentines

Our classroom was filled with restless children, ready to get started. Before the party could begin, however, we had to make a container to put our Valentines in.

Taking out an old shoe box brought from home, we’d first cut a slot into the box top so the Valentine cards could be slipped in. I don’t recall any injuries, which is amazing considering twenty-something awkward, excited kids were using scissors. Next, we’d wrap the box and top in craft paper, then decorate it with an assortment of 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 could be left whole, glued on, and adorned with the construction paper hearts, or cut into pieces and scattered about the box. Crayons added further decoration and 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 place them on our desks, pull out the Valentine cards we’d brought from home, and slip one into the box of every other kid in class. No one was to be left out, even the snot-nosed kid who was always picking on me. Most of us gave simple Valentine cards purchased in packages, but sometimes we’d receive something extra. The Valentine card might have a sucker inserted into holes that pierced the paper or, if we were lucky, receive a box of Sweetheart candies.

These heart-shaped candy wafers were packaged in small, rectangular boxes with a heart-shaped window on the front, allowing a view of the candies inside. On the back was another heart with space for writing the name of who it was To and From. The pastel-colored candies were printed with Valentine Day sayings such as Be Mine, Love You, and Kiss Me. They were easy to chew for a quick sugar-rush, but if you had the patience, you could suck on them for a few minutes and savor their tangy sweetness as they melted on your tongue. There were other goodies to enjoy at the party that followed so I’d save mine to eat on the way home, or for a treat the next day.

Sweetheart candies are still around, but with a few changes. In 2010 the formula was changed to produce a softer candy in more vivid colors and with a more intense and sour flavor. The sayings printed on them have evolved as well, and now include Text Me, You Rock, and Tweet Me, all reflections of the current times. It doesn’t matter how they look and taste now. Just 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 the Sweetheart candies.

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Candy Canes

There were always candy canes in our stockings on Christmas morning. Not only did Santa put gifts under the tree, according to our mom, he also filled our stockings and left the candy cane at the top.

My grandmother had handmade stockings for my sister and me. Each December we pulled them out with the rest of the Christmas decorations and hung them on the mantle above the fireplace. Actually, the fireplace had been bricked up and a gas heater sat in its place, but the mantle remained and was the perfect place to hang our stockings among the other seasonal decorations.

Christmas morning, after opening our gifts, we’d turn our attention to the stockings. First, we’d remove the candy cane at the top. We’d pull back the plastic wrapper and suck on the peppermint-y sweetness as we emptied our stockings to see what else Santa had brought. We’d continue sucking away, the candy cane growing shorter by the minute, as we began playing with our gifts. We’d still be enjoying the last of it while helping pick up discarded wrapping paper and bows with sticky fingers.

We grew older and learned it wasn’t Santa who put gifts under the tree after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. Momma still made sure the candy canes were in our stockings every Christmas morning. When we moved away to college, the candy canes still appeared. When we each married, and later when grandchildren arrived, more stockings were added to the mantle and a candy cane was in each one.

It was a tradition we all loved and expected. One year, my mom couldn’t find the candy canes she was sure she had bought, so my sister and I were dispatched to the store to buy more. 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 and began spending some Christmases alone, I didn’t bother buying candy canes. While I like the flavor of peppermint, I’m not a huge fan of the candy. Besides, I had no place to hang a stocking. So I stopped the tradition. Even now, after meeting my boyfriend, and moving in together, I don’t do candy canes. Like me, he isn’t concerned about decorating for Christmas, and he doesn’t like sweets, so I didn’t have a 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, telling him that Santa left it just for him.

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Candy Corn

Candy CornThe 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 just right. It was the treasure inside, however, that I eagerly anticipated.

Grandmunie, my paternal grandmother, lived 300 miles away, so we didn’t visit often. After a long trip in the car, we’d arrive at her house and be greeted with hugs and kisses, then I would pull away to run inside to be sure she had not forgotten. I’d climb up the piano bench, raise the lid of the candy dish and look inside. Then I would smile. It was there, candy corn. I’d put a piece or two in my mouth and savor the rush of sweetness, and the contentment 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 favorite 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.

While it isn’t my favorite candy these days, the sight of the orange, yellow and white triangles instantly takes me back to my childhood, and what I like to think was a 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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