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Inviting Writing: Candy, Costumes and Scary Neighbors

Now that we've been schooled on college food, it's time to graduate to a new Inviting Writing series. This month the topic is something on the minds of most American children this time of year, and anyone else who passes the seasonal displays in the supermarket: candy.Send us your personal essays a...

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Chcolate bars, courtesy of Flickr user dcosand


Now that we've been schooled on college food, it's time to graduate to a new Inviting Writing series. This month the topic is something on the minds of most American children this time of year, and anyone else who passes the seasonal displays in the supermarket: candy.

Send us your personal essays about trick-or-treating or other sweet memories. The only rules are that the story you tell must be true, and it must be in some way inspired by this month's theme. Please keep your essay under 1,000 words, and send it to FoodandThink@gmail.com with “Inviting Writing: Candy” in the subject line. Remember to include your full name and a biographical detail or two (your city and/or profession; a link to your own blog if you’d like that included).

I’ll start. For more inspiration, see previous entries on the themes of  mannerspicnics, fearroad trips and college food.

Chocolate Terror By Lisa Bramen

Candy and fear have always been intertwined in my memory. My earliest trick-or-treating outings were haunted by the 1970s hysteria over razor blades hidden in apples. I always figured that this was an urban legend started by clever kids hoping to discourage the do-gooders who gave out healthy alternatives to candy, but according to the myth-busting site Snopes.com, there really have been a number of cases of apple and candy tampering since the 1960s—although many were probably hoaxes. In any case, the fear of sabotage led parents to lay out trick-or-treating ground rules: anything homemade or not in a wrapper got tossed, and—the torture!—nothing could be eaten until it was brought home and inspected.

But my most traumatic candy experience wasn't on Halloween. It was selling chocolate bars as a Camp Fire Girl.

Camp Fire Girls (now Camp Fire USA) is a club started in 1910 to give girls an experience similar to Boy Scouts; I joined my local troop in around 3rd or 4th grade. According to the Camp Fire USA Web site, wilderness outings are an important part of the program. But instead of walks in the woods or roasting marshmallows over a campfire, the only outings I recall my troop making were to the regional gatherings at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles. Even worse than the morbid venue, the Whitman's Sampler chocolates we were given as a special treat appeared to be as old as some of the headstones—and of a similar texture.

Renting out a cemetery isn't cheap, I suppose, so another part of Camp Fire Girls was raising money through the annual chocolate bar drive. This was problematic for me in a couple of ways. First of all, unlike the ossified bonbons in the Whitman's Samplers, the chocolate bars we were entrusted with selling were delicious. Giving an 8-year-old sugar fiend a box of candy she is not allowed to eat is like asking a drug addict to guard a pharmacy. As anyone who's watched The Wire knows, the best dealers don't touch their own product. I'm pretty sure I used up all my allowance money eating through my inventory.

I was already a poster child for the dental perils of sugar; the earliest consequence of my addiction (apple juice was my gateway drug) was that my two top front baby teeth rotted when I was a toddler and had to be capped in stainless steel. Who knows—maybe a future rapper saw my blingy smile one day, inspiring the grill trend of later decades?

An even bigger challenge than resisting temptation was door to door sales. I was a shy child, and I didn't know most of our neighbors beyond the ones next door. I avoided it as long as I could—my parents brought boxes of bars to work to guilt their colleagues into buying, and group ambushes, when my fellow troop members and I stood outside the supermarket hassling potential customers, allowed me to stay in the background and let the more outgoing girls do the work.

But the day finally came when I would have to knock on my neighbors' doors. I dutifully donned my official blue felt vest and white blouse, and set out on my Willy Lomanesque quest. The first few doors weren't too bad. I made a sale or two, and even those neighbors who turned me down did so nicely. My confidence grew.

Then came the Tudor-style house with the turret entry near the end of the block. I knocked on the heavy wooden door with the black wrought-iron knocker. Someone opened a small window in the door and peered at me through an iron grate. I couldn't see more than her eyes, but I could tell from the way she screeched, "what do you want?" that she was very old and not very happy to see me. I wanted to turn around and run back to my mother, who was waiting for me at the bottom of the driveway, but I stammered through my sales pitch anyway. The crone, apparently judging me some kind of third-grade con artist, shouted: "You people were just here last week. How do I know you're even a Camp Fire Girl?"

I ran down the driveway, tears forming in my eyes, and told my mother what had happened. I'm a little surprised that she didn't head back up the driveway and give the woman a piece of her mind for treating a little girl that way, but I guess she knew what I have since come to realize: She was probably just a confused old woman who was as scared of the people on the other side of the door as I was.

My mother consoled me and allowed me to cut my sales trip short. I probably even got a chocolate bar out of it.
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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