My dad was a dentist who had the best and weirdest, and what he thought was
private, candy drawer!!
I knew he had it. He knew I knew he had it. We never spoke of it.
Throughout my young life and into adulthood I would find my father droopy and snoring in his favorite chair, deep in REM sleep, during the night. A halo of light gently hovering over a salt and pepper head; tattered novel or newspaper diagonal on his belly threatening gravity. Crumpled wrappers from sour balls and Swedish licorice drops would be strewn about, hiding in armpit crevices and scattered all over the floor.
One of my favorite memories of this mediocre sugar stealth was the time I came home late from a night out during high school. I found my dad in his spot eyes, a flutter, and head topsy turvy. I sat next to him so I could finish the show he was not watching before I got tired and went to bed. He must have sensed my presence and woken up. He turned his head and looked at me and it was so obvious he had a piece of candy in his mouth. He then pretended to continue reading and ever so slightly suck on the licorice or sour ball that was living in his mouth; looking a bit like a squirrel coveting an acorn.
Years later when our firstborn was about five years old I found my daughter and my father snuggling together in his chair sharing a piece of candy from the said drawer. I sat down next to them as inconspicuously and gently as I could so as not to scare away the moment and the next thing I knew my dad handed me a Swedish licorice ball and smiled.
It took 31 years and a kid but he finally shared his bounty! None of us spoke, just chewed, for a long time. (Those things take forever to disintegrate in your mouth!)
Coming back to the present day, after a year of my primary care doc wondering if I had White Coat Syndrome I was finally diagnosed this summer with high blood pressure. Seeing a hypertension specialist for the first time is like “the marathon” of doctor appointments; this lovely, brilliant doctor asked questions, listened to years of unknown history, took readings, asked more questions, did more tests, and then concluded her detective work with one question, “Jessie, do you by any chance eat black licorice?”
Did I eat black licorice!?
One thing that kept me grounded and tethered to some kind of grief recovery after my dad passed away was the taste and smell of black licorice. It became a routine where once a month I would come home to find a package on my doorstep from Florida. My best friend’s father would mail me a huge bag of black licorice and I would immediately hide it in the freezer. (Don’t ask, I had to eat licorice cold which could probably be its own essay altogether – I digress…) Every night before I would go to sleep I would eat between two and four pieces of this ebony root. These savory, sticky moments brought me back to his chair, his quirks, his need for privacy, and many times, humor. I missed him so much and licorice gave him back to me just for a little tiny bit every night.
So as my eyes flooded with tears on the 2nd floor of the UW Health Preventive Cardiology Clinic I told the doctor that yes, I ate black licorice every night. She let me cry a bit and then with a tender firmness stated, “No more black licorice for you.”
I received a notice in the mail last week from our synagogue that I had an upcoming yahrzeit for Dr. Avrom Kniaz with a date of Oct. 30th. I understand the Jewish calendar about as much as I do not understand it and though I may attend or think about him on the 30th, the 19th of October will be a day I never forget. I remember where I was sitting, I remember how the air felt on my skin, I remember how my feet felt numb when I tried to get up to walk and I remember also understanding that from that moment on I would have to find a way to keep my memories close.
With every human connection, there are many knots and braids, so to speak, that can help keep us tied to our memories. I may not be able to have any more black licorice drops but I have replaced them with sour balls and other hidden freezer treats so we’re all good – unless somehow medical research finds issues with sour balls then I will write another story and get back to you.
And, may we all find a way back to those we miss; if it has to be through sugar so be it!
If you want to read more like this purchase my new book Puddle Splashing! Available right now at local Madison bookshops: