Slowly, I’ve come to realize that growing older is inevitable. But thank God growing up is selective. Sometimes I do things, silly things, to make my life’ s journey more enjoyable. Often, I enjoy recalling some of my most cherished childhood memories, which made me smile or sometimes even laugh out loud when no one is around. A particular song from days gone by still has the magic to produce mental replays of my most hilarious and embarrassing moments. Even certain foods have a mysterious power, which can take me back to happy times of my nonstop childhood nonsense.
I remember those soft oatmeal cookies the size of a Frisbee. For just a nickel, I could buy two of those big ones and munch on them all morning long until my mom called me to come into the house for lunch. Cookies aren’t the only childhood treasures that I miss. Bazooka Bubble Gum has a special place in my heart, too. It usually took me half a day to work through a wad to chew out the sweetness to get my pink piece down to the right consistency. Then, I would blow the biggest bubble, which almost always popped and covered a most of my face. I was so proud of that skill. I have to mention that a pack of candy cigarettes and those big silly red waxed lips entertained me for hours. And don’t get me started on those colorful candy jawbreakers the size of golf balls! I still wonder how the heck I got one of them in my mouth and sucked on it all day long without choking myself to death on one.
While these retro recollections dance around in your head, I want to share my recent experience about a single purchase, which took me on a remarkable trip down my childhood memory lane.
At the time, I was living in Kaiserslautern, Germany. Since France was so close, its proximity to my location allowed me to visit Forbach located just inside the French border. Luckily Forbach was only about a thirty-minute drive from my location in Germany. I loved to visit the Cora Hypermarche, a chain of stores in locations all over France and Belgium. Cora is like Wal-Mart but 1,000 percent better. Since my first name is Cora, I thought that I might have a speck of a lineage connection to the Metz family, who I think are the original owners of Cora. But enough of that for now.
Everything in Cora’s is displayed so attractively. Friendly sommeliers who often set up counters to tout the new nectar from their vineyards, always offer a taste or two of their newly pressed wines. Cheese vendors eagerly share their samples too. Putting it mildly, Cora offers everything under the sun. I’ve even found those candy necklaces I used to buy and enjoy as a child in New Orleans. The candy was strung on an elasticized string. After buying one, I would slip the sweet treat over my head and let it fall loosely around my neck. Then I would suck on it all day at will until nothing but the string was left. All of Cora’s meats, fish, and fowl are always fresh. They’ve stocked every kind of sea creature that could be reeled in legally from the high seas. Some seafood scared me because I’d never seen the likes of them before. Many I definitely wouldn’t eat because of the way they looked. I know I couldn’t get close enough to them to cook them. Cora’s also carries clothing, shoes, furniture and just about everything and more that stateside Wal-Marts would carry. No need to say it, but I think you can tell that I love this store.
After I had finished shopping, I headed to the checkout counter to pay for my items. Heading towards the exit, I followed a pungent aroma of freshly brewed coffee emanating from the imbiss near the exit door. This tiny cafe, replete with old dark wood chairs hugging their few tables, regularly buzzed with an eclectic mix of shoppers and locals alike. Some deep in lively, animated conversations; others just chilled in solitude, minding their own business and taking in the scenes. Most were heavy smokers who contributed to the thick haze always hovering around the tables. But the annoying second-hand smoke never deterred me from making a quick stop at the counter to buy a fresh croissant and a cup of strong java.
One day as I approached the counter, something with a sparkle caught my eye. Something looked delicious in the bakery section. Something I had not seen since I was a kid. I stared at them in wide-eyed amazement. Nestled between stacks of sandwiches bulging with meats, cheese, and the usual accouterments and layers of fresh beignets (French donuts) lay rows of juicy candied apples coated with that unmistakable sticky red syrup! Real red candied apples on a Popsicle stick! I quickly covered my mouth with my free hand, because I could hardly contain my excitement.
Though I had spent a bundle shopping for my wants and needs, I wanted and needed one of those red candied apples. I rummaged deeply through my purse where I found some extra loose change. Like a hyped-up kid entering a circus tent, I hurried over to the counter to buy one. What the hell! My loose change allowed me to buy two. After the server had bagged them for me, I headed to my car and could barely restrain myself from grabbing one to nibble on during my drive back to Germany.
Arriving home and unloading my car, I focused on my prized purchases: my two red candied apples. Cradling one in my hand, I carefully peeled off its waxed paper with the precision of a professional chef peeling an exotic fruit. Being careful not to dislocate my jaw, I opened my mouth as wide as I could and sank my teeth firmly into a sizeable part of the crunchy red coating. I almost cracked a tooth, but I happily risked a trip to the dentist because that first chunk was just like I envisioned heaven to be. I smiled as I let it work its magic.
After that first bite, I closed my eyes and was five years old again, sitting on our wooden backyard porch in New Orleans, Louisiana. Barefoot and carefree, I gently embraced the sunny summer Saturday morning, savoring the taste of my candied red apple. Each subsequent bite tenderly entertained my taste buds with a perfect combination of the crunchy red cinnamon coating and the slightly tart apple. With each chew, I could hear the symphonic crunch of this sweet musical mixture in my head. I knew that my intention to eat it down to the core was still ahead of me.
Though I attacked it again and again, one realization occurred to me. Finishing up this red, succulent jewel from my childhood would come with a high price. Jagged fragments of the sticky coating stuck between my teeth had gradually formed an uneven red rim around my mouth. I just knew that I resembled a circus clown in training, but I didn’t care. “Getting into my food” was the only way I knew as a kid of how to eat anything this good, so I kept munching away, humming a nonsensical tune as I progressed.
Unfortunately, the warm weather worked against me. Halfway through my sweet feast, the crunchy red coating started to melt a bit, and its juice trickled down my hand to my forearms, just as it did when I was a kid. God, that felt good, but I knew that I looked a mess as most kids do when tackling such messy treats. I smiled as I recalled voraciously eating huge slices of succulent watermelon or racing to finish a quickly melting two-scoop ice cream cone with much less success. Back then, depending on my degree of ‘damage,’ I did to myself and my clothes, my mom would lovingly clean me up with a warm cloth, or if I was a total mess, she’d hose me down in the backyard before letting me back in the house. Since mom is no longer here, I would have to clean myself up, but later.
Hanging on to these delightful memories, I closed my eyes again and continued to nibble my little red gem down to its core. Mentally, I wondered if I should gobble up the second one and risk spoiling my dinner or having the red cinnamon coating permanently rim my mouth in red for the rest of the day. Honestly, being a kid again made my decision easy.