(by Sally A. Brett)
For many years, from my birth until I attended high school, my father worked for the Tennessee Valley Authority, a still-active Federal agency founded in 1933 to provide electricity, control flooding, and bring some economic stability in seven Southern states. Because my father loved to be a part of the start-up of the projects, we moved every year: new schools for the kids, new rental house and neighborhoods for my mother.
That year, we lived in Paducah, Kentucky, in a very old house with a large garden of roses, a magnolia tree, crape myrtle trees, and a small grove of birches. It was rented to us because it was tied up in an estate dispute of the sort that arises when the family has been so wealthy as to build a large house on acreage that becomes crowded to its corner by tract houses, and the living owner is a very elderly widow determined neither to sell nor to die. Ordinarily, townspeople didn’t rent to TVAers, as we lived somewhere only a year and then moved on to the next project. And who knows where we had come from or who our people were? Best to leave them alone.
My mother, who had grown up with three sisters, missed female company a lot, I realize, especially when the neighborhood mothers, home while the kids were at school, could be seen wandering in and out of each other’s houses for coffee and conversation. The dinner table, with food she had worked on all day, and with her family gathered around her, became very important to her.
My father, who also had grown up in one town with extended family and longtime neighbors, began to look for ways to make living alone in a neighborhood not matter so much. He played outdoors hide and seek with us, told us family stories as we sat on the front porch, among other things, but the best, to our four-, five- and eleven-year-old ways of thinking, was when he began coming home each day with candy for my stepsister, my little brother, and me.
First he tried licorice, but my sister and brother didn’t like it very much (I loved it, especially the black). He tried gumdrops, but none of us thought much of those. So he simplified: a Hershey bar, without almonds, for each of us. And therein lies the story.
My father brought home three candy bars, one for each child. My sister and my brother would eat theirs immediately. They tended to be a little gooey as they’d sat on the car seat or in Daddy’s coat pocket for the 20-minute drive from store and work site to our house in town, so there was much licking of fingers—drove my mother crazy—and ensuring every bit of wrapper peeled away from the bar of candy had yielded every little bit of chocolate.
I, however, liked my candy bar not gooey and not stuck to the wrapper. I would put it away somewhere cool and wait until I could take my time and eat a solid piece of chocolate that melted slowly in the heat of my mouth. Usually, that time was the next morning, when breakfast had long been over and we had played enough that we wanted a snack. Out would come the apple slices and cookies for my siblings, and I would begin to unwrap my Hershey bar.
My little brother, 11 months my junior, would start to howl. Then my sister would start to complain: It was unfair that I had chocolate and they did not. My mother would agree that was unfair and then—to my outrage and consternation—would insist that I share my candy with my brother and sister. It didn’t matter that they had eaten theirs the day before; I could not eat in front of them. I had to share.
Of course, that night I complained to my father. He advised that I eat my candy bar when the others did because my mother, he said, did not like for things not to be “even.” Later, I overheard my parents talking about the issue, with my mother insisting, exactly as he had said, that children should share, especially with their siblings.
Even at five years old, I knew the real issue was that my mother was fiercely protective of my stepsister, her child from an earlier marriage. Seven years older than I, my sister resented my father and me just as fiercely: We were the reason she was being dragged from town to town, to a new school every year, and had been forced to leave her much-loved and doting grandparents, aunts, and dog in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She had been the first, and for several years the only, grandchild—until I arrived. My mother tried hard to make up for the world-changing effect of a second marriage and a peripatetic life lived away from family and among strangers who did not care to get to know a shy, quiet girl with bitterness in her eyes.
If it took one third of a candy bar—my candy bar—to make her happy, my mother would make sure she had it. No amount of reasoning from my father could persuade my mother that she was being lopsided in her thinking.
For a week or so, as I recall it, we proceeded as before. Three candy bars distributed, two eaten, one reserved and when called out, split into thirds over protest.
One evening, my father distributed the three candy bars. As my sister and brother ran off to the side porch to eat their candy in the rocking chairs there, my father took my hand. “Here is a second candy bar for you,” he said and gave me another Hershey bar to join the one in my hand. “Do not eat this in front of your sister or brother and do not tell anyone about it, especially don’t tell your mother.”
Understanding dawned: Now I would have one and one-third candy bars, too. I would still be required to protest when made to share two-thirds the next day, but I could be content knowing that my intact and not-to-be-divided candy bar was hidden away until I was ready to eat it. Alone. All of it.
Until my mother decided one candy bar a day was Not Good for the Children, the fourth candy bar was my compensation and secret delight, proof that my father understood how it felt to be stuck between my mother’s stubbornness and my siblings’ greed. It did take a while as I grew up to recognize that, in relationships, sharing and compensation are much, much more complicated.
But chocolate, dark chocolate, perhaps encrusted with nuts or cushioned by pecans and caramel? Simple: I’ll take seconds, please.
Sally A. Brett is a retired English professor living in Virginia. She is the mother of two adult daughters, both of whom are accomplished cooks and bakers, and the devoted grandmother of three, one of whom at five is a budding chef.
Almost Fudge Brownies
(Although these are called "brownies," they are more like a melted candy bar or thick fudge.)
1 - 1 1/2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/4 lb. (1 stick) butter
1 c. sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1/3 c. flour
confectioners' sugar, optional
Preheat oven to 350 F. with rack in center.
In a glass 8 x 8 inch pan, place chocolate and butter.
Microwave to melt.
Add sugar, mixing well.
Add eggs, mixing well.
Stir in vanilla and flour, mixing to blend well.
Bake 15 - 22 minutes, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.
Sift with confectioners’ sugar as brownies cool.