Sugar fiend (part V).



It’s easy to blame others for my sugar addiction, but it’s no cop-out. I’m justified. There’s the conditioning of the American palate to crave sweets so we’ll buy the manufactured processed foods that leave us wanting more and continues the cycle. The studies continue to be conducted, and the science is out there. I also blame my family. We are a family of sugar friends. If my childhood soundtrack consists of candy jingles, my earliest memories of comfort and love are associated with candy.

My grandfather was the patriarch of our candy-loving dynasty. I remember the long-ago days with my abuelo, when I was too young for kindergarten, but old enough to be trusted with the location of his candy stash: behind the sliding doors of his bedroom closet, on the right side, third shelf, underneath his Sunday fedora. Light in color and weight to shield his pate from the tropical sun, abuelo would pinch the hat’s sharp crease on the crown front and lift it off the shelf to reveal–TA DA!–the stash: a brown paper bag, filled not with a hearty lunch but with glistening bits of magic.

There were starlight mints, and butterscotch and fruit-flavored hard candies in transparent wrappers. There were better treasures like the caramel squares, dark as abuelo, and the milky colored nougat blocks studded with multicolored jellies. The best treasures were in the shiny foils: little logs of toffee filled in the center with chocolate, orange or other fillings. All with twisted ends, all perfectly packed little gifts.

Abuelo would take a handful and lower the bag so I could select my pieces. He would re-hide the stash, give the hat a pat as reward for keeping the secret so well, and give me a wink. We’d walk from the bedroom to the living room, where we could hear the sounds from the kitchen: canciones de amor on the radio, knives on cutting boards, and the murmurings of my grandmother and mother. Abuelo and I would settle into his orange velour arm chair (it was the 70s, it was Puerto Rico, and it was el campo) in front of the color television set encased in its faux wood, colonial-style cabinet. He’d sit first, leaving a space just big enough for a four-year-old Nancy to wedge myself between his left hip and the chair’s left arm rest. The television would be set to the local news program, delivering las noticias del pueblo before the afternoon novellas. It was our slot of in-between time, and it belonged only to us.

I used to believe we were hidden by the high back of the arm chair. Truth is only I was hidden, tucked beside abuelo, my cheek resting on the worn cotton of his undershirt, feeling the dependable firmness of his belly underneath, and smelling his Old Spice as I drifted to sleep with a toffee dissolving in my mouth. Abuelo used to pat my head until his hand rested there when he too fell asleep. We would sit there, asleep, until awakened by abuela, who scolded us for spoiling our appetites with candy and dropping the wrappers on the floor.

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