The Sunday night drives to Howard Johnson’s for a quart of hand-packed chocolate ice cream (the superior brand in those days) to be eaten with salted peanuts sprinkled on top; the nights in front of the TV when my dad would devour an entire column of Hydrox cookies (they’re making a comeback!) and a quart of milk; the Cottage Pudding recipe from The Joy of Cooking for special occasions; the chocolate sauce (also from Joy) that hardened as soon as it hit the ice cream; Ovaltine on those nights when nightmares surfaced; and the rapture over chocolate ice cream from Bailey’s of Boston.
When I went off to college, Dad shipped chocolate covered pretzels from Fanny Farmer to me and, for my 40th birthday dinner, he placed plain milk chocolate Hershey bars at each place—the ultimate party favor. As adults, we all picked over the boxes of Godiva chocolates and shared his Hershey kisses—he called them “pills”—in his kitchen. We visited Christian Constant in Paris for its celebrated cocoa that was, finally, a chocolate almost too rich, too luscious to finish.
Yes, my sweetest memories are dipped in chocolate. And the bittersweet, too.
This week, my dad would have turned 93 and I happily followed the ritual I have enjoyed every year since his death in 1996: I buy 100 of those favorite Hershey bars—no nuts, milk chocolate—and just hand them out, randomly, to people I cross paths with on that day. The first one always goes to the cashier wherever I pick them up and from there on, it’s a sweet ride.
This year, it was an elevator full of patients on the way to doctors’ appointments, a condo concierge, students in one of my obituary-writing workshops, a waiter in my favorite Mexican spot, the dry cleaners, a handful of guys at the car wash, a carpenter repairing our coffee table, the valet parking guy at lunch, the mailman and a dozen or so friends who have come to expect them over the years.
I have made friends with a postal clerk whose late mother died on my dad’s birthday and a saleswoman at Saks who came around the counter to give me a tearful hug. One waitress at lunch asked for a second one to take home to her mother as a token of her own appreciation. I’ve shared them with tennis teams, slipped them in neighbors’ mailboxes and handed them out while hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.
Even people who don’t like chocolate (yes, there are a few out there) graciously take the Hershey bar to share with someone they know who needs it – as an emotional boost and to remind them there can be a happy, upbeat way to keep a loved one’s personality paying it forward in a way that is not morbid or maudlin. Really, the treat is all mine, being able to share a few words about him with friends and total strangers, keeping his memory alive with a smile.