Tempted by the Taste of Chocolate

MY friend Roger used to think I was the luckiest girl in the fourth grade because my father sold candy. On weekends, Roger rode his bike to my house where my father would be sorting through his samples, getting rid of those that might not be fresh. The discarded but clearly edible candy would go in big boxes that my father and I would haul to a local service agency that gave food to people who couldn't afford to buy groceries.

Roger showed up every Saturday, leaping from his bike with an incredulous look on his face as he watched my dad toss candy bars and boxes of sweets into a box. He watched until small mountains of candy emerged from the carton's top and spilled over onto the garage's concrete floor.

"I can't believe it," Roger would say as predictably as a day begins and ends, and then again, "I can't believe it." He'd shake his head and start to circle the box. Polite by nature, he'd stand a while before he'd softly ask my father, "Mr. Hegge, you gonna give this stuff away?"

And as he'd answered Roger so many Saturdays before, my father would say, "You want some, Roger?"

"Me?" Roger would look a bit surprised at this point and move in closer to the box.

"Sure," my dad would say, barely looking up from his task, "help yourself."

In our family, candy was no big deal. It only took one night of dipping into the sweet butter toffee that was my father's best seller for me to become ill enough to put candy in a proper perspective.

My only true temptation was a chocolate candy that was around our house on various holidays when my father's boss sent us fancy satin-covered boxes of hand-dipped chocolates.

Maybe it was because this candy wasn't readily available that it was such a magnet for me. Maybe it was because my father had introduced me to the very ladies who dipped creamy candy insides into melted chocolate at the main factory in Seattle.

ONE woman spent the better part of an afternoon showing me how quickly and carefully they plunged the candy into the big vats of chocolate. She showed me how the top of each candy was marked with a "code" design that told what flavor was inside. I paid special attention to the raspberry cremes because they were my favorites.

Several months after that visit, a gift of two boxes of hand-dipped chocolate came in the mail. My mother let me tear off the brown wrapping paper. Each holiday the box was a new design. This year the boxes were a special promotion for July 4th. Red, blue, and silver stripes wound around the rectangular boxes. A stiff gold ribbon was glued to the container's lid.

As she did every year, my mother let me choose a piece of candy. This time was special because the lady at the factory had given me a kind of map to the candies that sat in individual brown paper doilies, snuggled up against each other like members of a big family.

I picked up a dark round chocolate with a wavy "S" symbol on the top. With complete confidence, I bit into the candy expecting the familiar burst of raspberry. But this flavor wasn't raspberry. It was sticky, sweet coconut - my least favorite flavor.

"Ugh," I said, as disappointed in my ability to read the symbols as I was in the persistent flavor in my mouth.

That night when my parents were still in the kitchen talking, I walked quietly to the bookshelf and opened the box of sweets. Where had I gone wrong? Had I not paid enough attention at the factory? Looking at the array of candy, it seemed that every piece's symbol could be made into a wavy "S."

I took a nibble of a dark candy, just enough to see the white center, then carefully stuck it back in the box. Then I nibbled another with an S-like design on the top. Soon, I'd left small holes in the bottom half of the chocolates in the box. When I finally found the raspberry, I realized that the S looked more like a collapsed "Z," and I vowed to be more careful in paying attention to details.

IT never occurred to me to worry about what happened the next night.

My father had invited another salesman to dinner. This man was from a company in Japan and spoke just a bit of English. My father wanted to make him feel welcome.

After dinner, my mother headed toward the chocolates. The room felt suddenly hot, and I felt as I did the day I ate too much toffee from my dad's storeroom in the basement.

The gentleman chose a piece of candy. Was I mistaken or did my father's eyes widen a bit as he saw the candy with a distinct hole in the bottom disappear into the man's mouth?

"Hmmm," said my father as my mother chose a piece with a bit of lemon filling showing through the hole at the bottom.

"Would you care for a piece, Melissa?" said my father.

"No, thank you."

After the guest left that night, my father said only one thing to me: "Sometimes it takes a lot of tries until you get something right." He winked at me. "Just tell me next time before I offer the candy to a guest," he said, "so someone doesn't think we have little mice."

Many times in my childhood I knew the importance of my father, but it was only years later that I realized how much I could trust that he would never embarrass me, even when I'd already embarrassed myself.

I guess it takes someone like him to sell something as sweet as candy. I saw my friend Roger several years ago. Thirty-five years later, he still laughs in the old familiar way at the thought of all that candy. "Your dad," he said, "was an amazing man."

"He still is," I tell him, and think to myself, "in more ways than one."

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