“Candy corn is the only candy in the history of America that's never been advertised. And there's a reason. All of the candy corn that was ever made was made in 1911. And so, since nobody eats that stuff, every year there's a ton of it left over.”
On my first day in kindergarten, Sister Mary Theresa passed around a big can of gumdrops for us to sample. I took two gumdrops even though she told us to each take one. The kid next to me snitched. That’s when I learned never to trust anybody who doesn’t like candy.
There’s something about candy that defines us in a way few other things can.
Ronald Reagan, for instance, noted, “You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jellybeans.”
When Reggie Jackson belted three home runs during Game 6 of the 1977 World Series, perhaps his greatest tribute was having a candy bar named after him.
Actor Telly Savalas built his “Kojak” character around a lollipop.
In our family, my wife’s grandfather concealed a stash of Mounds bars as a special treat just for her – always, and only, Mounds. Our daughters, however, got it into their heads as youngsters that their mother adored Necco Wafers. So each birthday, Mother’s Day and Christmas, Jo Anne would be heaped with packs of the sugary stuff. It wasn’t until the girls were grown that she confessed to them that she hated Necco Wafers.
There is a nostalgia associated with candy. Hershey's has been around since 1900. You can find a recipe for S’mores in the Girl Scout Handbook of 1927. Some of us still remember the Chuckles ad slogan, “Five colors, five flavors, five cents.” And three traditional favorites comprise the top-sellers every year:
- Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, introduced in 1928
- Snickers, introduced in 1930
- M&Ms, introduced in 1941
Here’s Dr. Samira Kawash, an expert on the cultural history of candy, in a Smithsonian interview a few years ago.
“There’s no sign of trick-or-treating at all until the 1930s and it really wasn’t until the late 1940s that it became widespread. In the 1970s, there was the emergence of the myth of the Halloween sadist: the idea that there are people out there who are going to poison the popcorn balls, put razors in the apples, etc. Anything that wasn’t factory-sealed wasn’t considered safe. There was a sense of loss of small-townness in that era of suburbanization. The neighbors were strangers for the first time.”
Today, though, children go from home to home trusting that strangers will give them something sweet. And adults feel no hesitation in giving candy to the small strangers on their doorstep.
At Halloween, we typically are not even cognizant of the sharing that is occurring. One poll showed that at Halloween most of us shop for the candy we favor, like a legacy we’re proud to leave the kids.
In the newly released film, The Judge, the title character’s passion for Bit O’Honey candies is handed down to his son, who in turn passes it down to his daughter. A powerful moment comes when the crusty patriarch is near death and his son surprises him with a handful of Bit O’Honeys. Candy becomes a tangible metaphor for the renewed affection the two men share – despite the strained relationship they’ve had for years.
For this fictional family, as for my family and perhaps yours, too, a brand of humble candy can serve as a bequest whose value defies definition.
In my next blog, “The Laborers Are Few”