tagNon-EroticBlack Licorice

Black Licorice


My Papa died when I was rather young. I have very few memories of him. Mostly feelings and images. Some of these images are artificial, told to me by others or from pictures in the family album. I know that my Papa played Barrel of Monkeys with my sister and me on one of our birthdays, but I don't really remember the event. I always had the impression that pictures were meant to capture a moment and remind you, to trigger the memory. That picture is my only memory of that moment in time, that experience.

It is black licorice that triggers my most vivid memory. Not just any black licorice, definitely not the popular ropes that most associate with the candy. The ones I mean are the small tidbits that look like two fluffy pillows stuck together, black on the outside but rich brown when pulled apart. They are actually made up of four pieces and are easily separated again lengthwise. As this ritual division is being completed, the licorice oil gets all over my fingers, not sticky like the licorice itself but slippery like one would imagine the ink from an octopus to be. Black licorice has its own unique taste, slightly minty with a hint of metal. As you suck out the taste it turns to rubber in your mouth, becoming smaller and smaller until you have to bite it in order to get the last bit of flavor.

My father and Nana were out front mowing the lawn, my Nana wearing pants for one of the only times I can recall- of course to her they weren't "pants" but "slacks." My grandparents lived on a huge property with a lawn and a field. The field was little more than weeds, wildflowers and insects. My father mowed the field a couple of times a year using a red, riding mower, but today they were only tending to the lawn. This left my sister and me alone in the house with my Papa who was sick in bed.

My sister and I were playing on the bed and the floor with the myriad of throw pillows, most likely talking his ears off, when he asked if I would go downstairs and bring him the bag of licorice. Always happy for the possibility of candy, I jumped at the chance. As I was leaving the room, I realized to my terror that on the other side of the stairs was Rusty, my grandparents' cat. Rusty was a beautiful, fluffy cat with long red-brown hair and an unending dislike for anyone but my Nana. I stopped dead in my tracks as he hissed at me. I made a very quick turn out of the room, ran down the stairs, cut through the dining room, slid across the small, tiled hallway, and jumped down the step to the family room. There on the dark oval coffee table was the golden glass candy jar. My family was very big on sweets. My Aunt Madelyn always had jars and jars of candy on her counter. My sister and I would fill up on mini candy bars, cheese balls and bubble gum on our weekly Saturday night visits. At my Nana and Papas though, there was only the faceted, gold, Depression glass jar. Inside it were the ever-present peppermint patties and my goal- the bag of black licorice tied closed with a rubber band. I snatched up the candy, carefully put the top back on the candy jar, lest Nana come in a yell at me for leaving it open again, and scurried back up to the bedroom.

As I handed Papa the bag he looked very seriously at the two of us and said, "Now don't tell your Nana that we were eating licorice." We looked conspiratorially at one another and promised not to say anything. This was our big secret and eager to have sweets we were more than willing to keep it to ourselves. I am not sure how much we ate but I recall Papa closing the bag again and us having to return the bag to the golden candy jar so that we would not be caught.

Papa died not too long after this. I believe I was five or six years old at the time. I cannot see this scene. My mind does not remember what my Papa looked like except for the few pictures in the family album. I guess what I do recall is more important. I can feel his smile. I remember how good it felt to make his eyes crinkle at the corners and his cheeks round with his contagious smile. I can remember the feel of his eyes twinkling with the mischief of our secret. I can still feel the love in that bedroom, just as I can still feel the licorice oil on my fingertips.

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