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.

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).

You can listen to an audio recording of this story here.