Childhood, Memory, Spirituality

Witchful thinking

Even though I can’t situate them on a timeline, these are details I have assembled:

1. I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond after I read the Meg mystery books, but before The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

2. Before any book, my parents rented for me Escape from Witch Mountain on betamax from the video rental store on Haddonfield-Berlin road.

3. I tried to check out a book once on witchcraft from the Camden County library, but there were none to borrow. No how-to, no expose, no empty slot on the shelf, no card inside a drawer marked Wa – Wi.

4. Once, I was a witch for Halloween. It was the year my parents threw me a Halloween party. This year may have been 1980. It was a popular year for the witch because Maddie Schwartz arrived wearing the same molded mask and plastic yellow trash-bag apron tied around her neck. For the record, when I picture the witch’s face mask, warts and all, it looks less like a woman and more like a man. This is, at least partly, due to a photograph of my father wearing my witch’s mask, and the girls at the party laughing.

5. In the same living room in which my mother set up a folding table to hold the cheese curls and the candy corn at the Halloween party, there was a love seat behind which I hid every year during the holiday broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. I crouched down behind the love seat as the Wicked Witch of the West screamed at me from atop an abandoned cabin in a forest.

6. I wanted, when I was a girl, to meet a real witch, but a nice one. Not so nice like Glenda, more like Samantha, nice, but naughty.

7. Once, I sat in the attic bedroom of my camp friend Hope and, for the first time, met another girl who also secretly wanted to be a witch, or more specifically, wanted to practice witchcraft.

8. The Craft came out a few years too late, but I still watched it.  A few years too late, Willow and Tara made implied love during the Buffy musical, but I still watched that, too.

9. When I still lived in New Jersey, I interviewed a witch for a local newspaper called She called herself a Wiccan and though I may have even asked her at the time, “Why Wiccan and not witch?” I could not explain to you now the difference. I met her at the store she owned in Montclair called Mystic Spirit. At the end of the interview, asthmatic from the incense, I left both longing to be and thankful I was not a Wiccan.

10. There is not one how-to book of spells in my collection, even though once I bought a how-to book of spells from Urban Outfitters and gave it to my friend Susan for her birthday. It might have been Karin I gave the book to. It was someone, a woman who was my friend when I lived in New York, a woman who was my friend with a birthday in June.

Is it witchcraft when you a fold a piece of paper, and then fold it again, and then write numbers on the folds and wishes beneath them?

Is it witchcraft when you settle in at night and chant for health and wealth and love and ease?

Is it witchcraft when you listen to prayers sung in harmony in the hopes you will be transported out and above your self so you may have a better view of your life? A better understanding of what it is to be you?

I watch a clip on YouTube. Tia is still beautiful and Tony is still creepy, and I still, in a way, want to be a witch. And I still in a way, am frightened by the possibility I already am one.

“Come to think of it,” says Tony to his sister Tia before he begins to play the harmonica that will make the marionettes dance. “You can do a lot of things I can’t. Like working locks, and the way you can talk to me without moving your mouth.

Maybe it’s because you’re a girl.”


Memory, Writing

Nibs give you magical powers, and other lies I told under the influence of candy

If I had written this article on the 25 best candy bars of all time, I probably would have replaced Caramello with Rolos, and left out anything with coconut. But to be fair Rolos isn’t a bar, which is probably why the author chose Caramello in the first place.

My first reaction to seeing the post in my Twitter feed was impulsive:

“Hey, it’s Halloween season! Who can I get to ship me some candy corn to Israel?”

My second reaction, after I read the article was:

“Man, it sucks that my kids have nut allergies. I really miss Butterfingers. More than I miss Reese’s and way more than I miss Snickers.”

But then something about seeing all these old friends — candy bars I haven’t touched in years — caused me to delve deeper.

In particular, the nougat-filled Charleston Chew shined a light into the subterranean caverns of my memory.

I remembered a better chew.

The Goldenberg’s Original Peanut Chew.

peanut chew

It was my favorite 5 cent purchase at the synagogue gift shop each Tuesday and Thursday afternoon when I was in elementary school.

Tuesdays and Thursdays were for Hebrew school, and for candy treats I could buy on my own. 4 pm was prime traffic time for the glass-enclosed gift shop at the end of a long hallway peppered with synagogue administrative offices. We lined up one behind the other inside the narrow non-room that was the gift shop, carefully avoiding the stained glass menorahs and brass kiddush cups sitting a top plexiglass shelves.

There was no regular, lovable character serving us at the register. No Candy Man. No Nat from the Peach Pit to welcome us. Just a retired old lady who walked over once or twice a week from the Windsor Towers to make a few bucks selling Judaica and sweets.

They didn’t sell regular candy at the gift shop, not that I can remember at least.

No Milky Ways or Hershey Bars or KitKats. The kind of treats you’d beg your mom for while waiting in line to pay for groceries at Pathmark.

No, the offerings at the gift shop were always obscure — come to think of it, either they were cheaper wholesale so the synagogue could make a higher margin of profit; or maybe back then, only B grade candy got a kosher certification.

Only old ladies dead and gone know for sure.

When I wasn’t buying 5 cent mini Peanut Chews, I was splurging on stick candy —

©Copyright 2010 Lewis Chocolate & Candies All Rights Reserved
©Copyright 2010 Lewis Chocolate & Candies All Rights Reserved

Rootbeer was my favorite.

I also sucked on Necco wafers, Junior Mints, Broke my teeth on Mary Janes.

Something I never bought, but my little brother always did was Nibs. I was never a licorice fan. I’d eat a red Twizzlers if you gave it to me for free, but I wasn’t going to spend my penny candy money on licorice.

Nibs were (are) tiny bite-sized cherry flavored licorice candies that were packaged in a semi see-through pink plastic bag.

One morning, as my brother and I were waiting for the bus at the corner of our street, he pulled out a half-eaten bag of Nibs from the bottom of his backpack.

“What are those?” asked Pretty, the Indian girl who lived down the street from us.

My brother and I looked at each other quickly. Pretty was not only burdened with the enormous weight of being named Pretty, but she was also gullible.

We had played a few harmless tricks on her before — told her we could make the pictures on our — ahem  Freezy Freaky — gloves disappear using only our breath.

Earlier in the year, I easily convinced her my hair was really a wig, by moving my bangs back and forth slowly with my hand pressed hard against my forehead. She never bothered to ask why I had to wear a wig. She simply … believed.

Our tricks never really hurt Pretty — in fact, I’d say they added wonder and delight to her early mornings. But, as a mother, I know the tricks we played on Pretty would not be antics I’d want my kids caught doing to other children today. You live, you learn, and (hopefully) you realize that just because something makes you laugh, doesn’t mean it’s funny.

When my brother pulled out the Nibs that morning — a synagogue gift shop purchase and therefore an unusual and rare confectionery find for our non-Jewish schoolmates — we jumped on the opportunity to delight Pretty …and yes, test how far we could go,

“What are those?” asked Pretty.

“They’re magical candies,” I answered. “When you eat them, you can read people’s minds.”

“Not true!” Pretty exclaimed. She wasn’t stupid … just a bit of a sucker, if you’ll excuse the candy metaphor.

“Yes, true,” said my brother, passing me a “how are we going to pull this off” look.

“Listen,” I told Pretty. “I know it sounds weird, and maybe it doesn’t work for everyone, but yesterday when we were eating these, we totally read each other’s minds.”

“Really?” she said, looking back to my brother for confirmation.

My brother and I both casually nodded our heads.

“We didn’t believe it either, but after eating just one, suddenly I knew he was lying about a secret room he found playing Adventure.” I said, pointing to my brother. “He didn’t find it.”

My brother glared at me. This was a real argument we had the night before. We both had been searching for weeks for the elusive gray dot our cousin Greg had told us about.

“Wow. Can I try one?” Pretty asked.

My brother looked at me, uncertain of what would come next.

“You can,” I said, “but not now. It’s not good to do it right before school.”

“Why not?” asked Pretty.

“It’ll be too loud in your head — all those thoughts — you’ll get a headache.” I had read way too many young adult novels featuring characters with ESP.

Pretty considered this for a second and then said, “You’re probably right. It’s not a good idea. I’ll wait til after school.”

By the end of the day, however, after the bus dropped us off again at the corner, my little brother had already eaten the remaining Nibs. Conveniently, there were none left for Pretty to try.

And frankly, I don’t remember if she simply dropped the matter or if I came up with a reason why we never brought Nibs to the bus stop again.

But I do wonder where Pretty is now — and whether or not she ever truly believed our stories, or if she was, indeed the smartest one of us all, by approaching a remarkable claim with curiosity, instead of cynicism. Choosing to believe first, understand later.