I don’t usually take pictures of our home furniture, but a golden slant of morning light lent my everyday still life here a sort of holy ambiance, so I decided it was worth capturing. All three items pictured here have special significance in my life, but for now, I’ll just tell you about the candy dish.
I wrote a bit in my two previously posted persimmon pudding posts about my Grandma’s and Grandpa’s farm in Greensboro and what it meant to me growing up. Our family moved about every two years, so their farm was the one place I could go that gave me a sense of permanence, home, and belonging.
It’s ironic that the land where their house stood and where I used to roam through the wild woods now accommodates an upscale subdivision of huge, fancy houses, because Grandma’s house was a humble abode—some would even call it a shack. Grandma and Grandpa slept in the front room where the woodstove was, which was also the room where we all hung out because it was the only really warm place there in the winter. The room where I usually slept was right next to that one, almost filled by two double beds. I usually slept with my Aunt Ellen, who never married and often stayed at the farm. I loved Aunt Ellen fiercely, but I hated sleeping with her because her snoring was earsplitting—enough to wake the dead. I’d often lie there for hours, with the covers pulled over my head, trying to muffle the deafening thunder of her snores.
Although Aunt Ellen had her own apartment in Winston-Salem, we all called this room Aunt Ellen’s room. She stayed there often enough that the room was full of her things, including her clothes in the tall wardrobe—so tall that it almost touched the ceiling. On top of that wardrobe, for my entire childhood, sat a candy dish. It was a lovely, cut-glass candy dish, but when I was small, I scarcely noticed the beauty of it. Rather, it was the peppermints inside that held my interest.
I seldom got candy growing up, so when I’d go to people’s houses as a child, I’d often gaze longingly at their candy dishes. In fact, I learned early on that sometimes, gazing with unmitigated yearning at a candy dish resulted in the candy dish proprietor saying, “Beth, honey, would you like a candy?” Yes, yes, it’s true—when it came to candy, I was not above a little minor manipulation. If staring didn’t work, then I’d move on to Plan B., which involved saying something subtle like, “My… that candy certainly looks delicious!” For the candy holdouts, that usually did the trick.
But Aunt Ellen was no ordinary candy dish proprietor. First of all, she was an extremely frugal sort of person who believed in saving everything for a rainy day. Including candy. Secondly, she thought that candy should be a rare treat for children. Very rare. So, of course, I quickly learned that, with her, Plan A was completely ineffective—she would just ignore me. So, on to Plan B. Every time she’d come in the room, I’d gaze up at the candy dish and say loudly, “My, Aunt Ellen, those peppermints sure do look delicious!” Frequently, she’d still ignore me, so I’d say it again, so loud that I was almost shouting. Finally, Aunt Ellen would sigh, roll her eyes, and look at me and smile. “Why yes, Beth…yes, indeed they do!” Then she would leave the room.
This same scenario played out for my entire childhood. That candy dish full of peppermints seemed to taunt me every time I went to Grandma’s. The same candy dish…and yes, the same peppermints. A mere candy dish full of peppermints became something much larger in its unattainability. I was certain that those peppermints must surely be the sweetest peppermints in all the world. But it would be years before I found out; years before the unattainable was attained.
I was a teenager when Grandma passed away. Because the farm was to be sold, I was there helping my mama and aunts to clean things out. Aunt Essie and I were in Aunt Ellen’s room, sorting through the things there for family pieces to be rescued from the coming auction. Casually, I mentioned to Aunt Essie that I was sure Aunt Ellen would want to keep the candy dish on top of the wardrobe. Happily, Aunt Essie agreed, so I stood on a chair, reached up, and at last grasped the object of my desire. Holding it close to my heart, I got down from the chair, sat on the bed, and reverently removed the lid. There they were, after all these years—the sweetest peppermints in the world.
Aunt Essie eyed them dubiously. “Uhh…I think those might be kind of old—you shouldn’t eat them.”
“Oh yes…they’re quite old,” I said. “Ancient, in fact.” I picked one up—the cellophane wrapping was yellow. I unwrapped it. Not so easy, as the cellophane was glued to the peppermint.
“Umm…don’t eat those, Beth. Honestly, I think I remember those from MY childhood,” said Aunt Essie.
“Me, too,” I said, as I popped it into my mouth.
You may be wondering how it tasted. Well, I’ll tell you—better than you’d think, but not as good as I had imagined all those years. Surprisingly, the cool pepperminty essence was intact, but it was curiously chewy. Still, somehow, I thought it was the best peppermint I’d ever had up to that point.
I’ve told this story to my children many times. They never knew my grandparents, of course, though they do faintly remember my dear Aunt Ellen, whom they visited as toddlers. It was then that she gave me the candy dish (surely there was no one who could appreciate it more than me). They never knew my mama, either, so many of the things I have around the house that are so dear to me because they hold memories, mean little to my children. So my stories are a way to give meaning to these totems of the extended family that my children never knew, these little monuments to my past.
And I guess some of my stories paid off, as Ariel chose to paint the candy dish (in pastels) for her Advanced Placement Art class in high school. She painted it with the morning light streaming in, illuminating the cut glass and filling the dish with rainbows. Not surprisingly, it’s one of my favorites of her paintings (and won her a $500 art supply gift certificate in an art show).
I hope that someday, perhaps after we are gone or maybe before, Ariel or Benjamin will take the beloved candy dish and put it in a place of honor in their home. Not high up, where no one can reach, but low, where the morning sun will always illuminate it. And I hope they will fill it with peppermints or some other delights, so that eager little hands can always open it and pack their pockets full of their heart’s desire.