So, I’m standing at the check out of one of them new, “old fashioned” general stores, clutching a bag of penny candy, when I suddenly spy the fudge counter. What a dilemma!
The Women Who Run With the Moose (which is me and my friends Celeste, Rita, Betty, Dot, and Shirley) take field trips from time to time, and we were on our way home from a whirlwind shopping excursion to the outlet malls in North Conway. Plum tuckered out from all that bargain hunting, we needed a little nourishment to fuel our trip back to Mahoosuc Mills. That’s when the store appeared, right on cue. We piled out of Shirley’s Bonneville (that’s the only car big enough to hold all six of us), and went in search of sustenance.
Now, us girls are evenly divided in terms of preference, with Rita, Dot, and Shirley going for the crunchy, salty snacks, and Celeste, Betty, and me gravitating more toward the smooth, sweet stuff. I by-passed the “I Heart New Hampshire” t-shirts and balsam pillows, and went straight for the penny candy.
See, I love penny candy. It reminds me of when I was a kid. What a treat it was for my sister Irene and me to go to Blue’s, the gas station and general store that old Mr. Blouin and his wife used to run in Mahoosuc Mills. Inside were two glass-fronted, wooden cabinets filled with penny candy. (This was back in the olden days when penny candy actually cost a penny.) Irene and me could spend half the morning debating the merits of Mary Janes versus Squirrels. Coconut Watermelon Strips or Mint Juleps? Mrs. Blue was always patient, letting us take our time, and occasionally giving us a cream soda to share while we weighted our options.
So on this particular day in the New Hampshire general store, I selected three each of Mary Janes, Squirrels, Bulls Eyes, and mini Tootsie Rolls. (I like to alternate one of each kind to keep the taste fresh.) For good measure, I grabbed a York Peppermint Patty to cleanse my palette.
I was all set to check out when I spied the fudge counter. Don’t do it, I’m thinking, but my feet just started walking in that direction. Though momentarily distracted by the Snickers fudge, I found what I was looking for. Yes! Second flavor from the left: penuche with walnuts!
My father’s sister, Georgiana, always gave us a box of penuche fudge with walnuts at Christmas time. I’ve never tasted anything quite like that fudge (though that hasn’t stopped me from trying). It was heavenly! Not only that, it was blessed by the church. See, Georgiana was a nun, and because she made the fudge with the other nuns she lived with, we referred to it as “holy fudge”.
I’ll just get a taste, I’m thinking. Then, I saw the sign: “Quarter pound minimum.”
“Would you like some fudge?” the woman behind the counter asks.
“I’m trying to decide how sick I want to make myself.”
Because here’s the thing: as I’ve gotten older, my body doesn’t tolerate sugar the way it used to. If I’m not careful, I get this wicked headache, and suddenly I’m beyond snappy. The last time I went on a sugar bender, my husband Charlie says, “Ida, candy may take you back to your childhood, but all it takes me back to are the days of PMS.” I stared at the penuche.
“How big is a quarter pound?” I ask.
“About like this.” The woman pointed to a piece that didn’t look all that big.
I knew I couldn’t get both the penny candy and the fudge. Chances are, I’d demo all of it before we hit the outskirts of Mahoosuc Mills. Then, I might as well just fire up my broom and fly home. I just couldn’t do that to Charlie and our little pup, Scamp. Besides, my friends were all checked out and waiting for me.
“Quarter pound of penuche with walnuts,” I said. I figured the protein and anti-oxidants in the nuts would kind of balance things out.
I put back the penny candy, while the woman packaged the penuche and rang me up: $4.00! I’m thinking, maybe I made the wrong decision, but it’s too late now. I’ve committed, and I’m just going to have deal with it best I can.
“Would you like a little knife?” the woman asks.
At first, I had to think about what she meant. Then, I got it. “Oh, a little knife so I can share. Sure,” I says. (Not likely, I’m thinking. The Women Who Run With the Moose share a lot of things, but dessert is not one of them.)
When I got in the car, as much as I wanted to just bite off a hunk of the fudge, I decided not to. I would be civilized, cut myself a moderate piece of penuche and close the bag up. Pace myself. I took a taste.
Let me tell you, that fudge was so sweet it kind of made the glands behind my ears ache. It didn’t taste quite like holy fudge, but it would do.
I cut off another small piece and ate it. I was feeling a little nauseous by then, so I put the fudge away. For about fifteen minutes. Then I pinched off another piece, and another.
By the time we reached Mahoosuc Mills, half the penuche was gone, and I was cultivating a dull headache. I walk into our house, and when Scamp greeted me with his usual “I never thought I’d see you again!” excitement, I felt sort of overwhelmed. Give me some space! I’m thinking. Then, when Charlie didn’t tear himself away from the evening news, I could feel the irritation building. The least he could do is get up and say hello! Oh, and look, he didn’t even sort the mail! What a surprise! And boy, I knew was in trouble.
Before pinching another piece of penuche, I take the bag into the bathroom, and using the little knife, I cut the fudge into chunks, and flush them down the toilet.
See, I couldn’t just throw the bag of fudge in the trash. Because between you and me, when it comes to sweets, I’ve been known to return to the trash, dig out the bag, open it up and continue where I left off.
And that is the end of my confession. For penance, I’m going to say one Our Father, two Hail Mary’s and eat a salad with low-cal dressing.
That’s it for now. Catch you on the flip side!
(Listen to the podcast of Ida's column here.)