Thursday, March 14, 2013

Caramels and Pop Rocks with a Chaser of Tab Soda By: Karen Pilarski

It is amazing how certain food or objects from the past are stained with memories of yesterday. With just one whiff of a scent or tease of a taste suddenly takes a person back decades ago. For me it is Werther’s Original Caramels.

It was the 1980’s and I was on my way to my grandparent’s house. At the time there were seven of us kids bunched in the station wagon like sardines. As the years went by there would eventually be nine children. If my parents didn’t pack us in it would take two trips to go anywhere.

I could smell the summer sausage and pop rocks my brother downed in the car.  The crackling and hissing from the cherry candy fizzling in his mouth was grossing me out. Three of my siblings were crying they had to use the bathroom. I was on the hump in the back and the constant shifting and bumping wasn’t helping my full bladder. My family didn’t see my relatives much except during family gatherings. It was a big deal when we did visit with them.

Grandpa and Grandma Schmidt had a modest sized house. One of my favorite parts was the basement. There was a bar and a cool village my grandfather made that had a train go around it. The Christmas tree was up year round. The person who was the life of the party wasn’t a wild cousin or dare devil uncle. It was Grandma Anita! She was no pie making, tight bun wearing granny. She was sassy, cussed and smoked.  She had tight dark curls that she wore in short do.  I didn’t know at the time but Grandma was always ill. As I got older Grandma spent lots of time on the couch.

On the end table was this candy dish that had Werther’s Original Caramels in them.  My brothers and sisters would wait for a piece to be offered to us. The caramel would slowly dissolve on my tongue and sweeten the saliva in my mouth. The candy dish was amber tinted glass. There were geometrical shapes on it. Gently we were told to put the lid back on. The dish screamed 1970’s. When I opened the lid I could almost hear the whisper of someone saying ‘groovy.’ Grandma even though nontraditional wore fuzzy sweaters. The sweaters looked cozy. Grandma had long beautiful nails. She and Aunt Pauline would scratch my back or my arm as a sign of affection.  She had a pretty good array of perfume and nail polish.

In the distance my Grandpa “Bill” would have sports playing softly in the background. Even today the sound of golf or bowling makes my eyes glaze over. In their home nick-knacks were on a shelf in the living room. There was a waxed head with the nose tip chipped off. I wondered who chewed on the nose. Also there was a mini slot machine that my mom would mess with. My grandparents had family portraits all over. Particularly amusing to my sister and I was a family picture of my mom and her siblings. Mom was wearing a hideous shirt that I said looked like had coleslaw spattered on silk.  Aunt Pauline was turned in a way that looked like she was playing a piano. It was tradition to make fun of the picture when we would visit. Of course on the wall was my own family portrait. I had a bowl cut (thanks mom) and my baby brother John was screaming his head off in the picture. My older sister was chewing on her lip.

On the kitchen wall was a homemade family tree. It was made on wood and had a tree swing on it. Small red painted apples with names of family members were on the tree. I was told Grandma painted the names on it. In the backyard was a stump from where a tree was cut down. I loved sitting on that stump. One memory is of Uncle Butch asking me about my Cabbage Patch Kid and not pronouncing the name right. There was also a cool porch swing. On the deck was a big table for the family to sit around under the shade of the big umbrella. My sister would tease Aunt Pauline and call her ‘auntie big nose.’ My aunt would jump up and try to give her a ‘wedgie’.   On the table was Grandma’s chips and homemade dip. It was French dressing, onion, milk and cream cheese. Even in my thirties I enjoy this family party staple.

For some reason my grandparents thought offering us a soda was a treat. It wasn’t a coke or root beer. It was Tab soda. It didn’t taste right to us kids. Even my aunt offered it to us by her house. I think they thought we were strange for turning down soda. It tasted that rancid.

The funny thing is how my grandparent’s influenced my family and even today. My grandparents have long since passed.  My aunt Pauline and Uncle Butch have passed as well. Their legacy and personality still touches us in subtle ways.

I love nick-knacks and family pictures. I have the candy dish now in my house. On my wall in the hallway is that family tree I admired. I love fuzzy sweaters and the sound of a golf game on television is comforting. When I look at those things I still crave a caramel and the days past when I was squeezed in a hot car on the road to see the grandparents.