When I was in kindergarten, all I wanted to do was spend my time in the little play store in the corner of the classroom. I’d load the plastic food into brown paper bags for my classmates, take their play money, and drop it in the little red cash register that dinged when the drawer popped open. At my parent teacher conference, my teacher, Mrs. Brooks, told my mom I was a born salesman. She also said I needed to do a better job sharing the cash register.
Mrs. Brooks was right. My whole life I always wanted to have my own little store – a candy shop. Over the front door there’d hang a tinkly bell. The counters would be covered with thick glass jars with fancy lids and labels. I never got my shop, but I did buy myself some giant candy jars.
Every year, I fill the jars up and set them out around my home. I change the candy for the season: Reese’s eggs for Easter, candy corn for Thanksgiving, peppermints for Christmas. The candy is just for show. Year after year, I display the same sweets. When I moved to Budapest, I had to bring my jars with me. I couldn’t leave them behind.
My friends in Hungary like to tease me about the “candy shop” in my apartment. It’s my own fault, I guess. I probably shouldn’t have let them help me unpack my shipment when it arrived in Budapest to see that four of the twenty moving boxes were marked: candy. I’m sure it also didn’t help that at my first Christmas party in Budapest my new friend Michelle reached into one of the jars, bit into a Peppermint Patty before I could stop her, and cried, “How old are these?” The room grew silent. “…Nine years,” I answered. Everyone laughed. I was glad Michelle hadn’t asked about the candy canes. They were older.
That same year in Budapest, I was pushing my cart through the grocery store one day when I came upon an aisle full of Santas wrapped in shiny red foil. What’s this? Picking one up, I discovered that they were hollow chocolates! Big, small, fat, thin, there were dozens of different sizes and shapes. Later I learned that the foiled little men were not actually Santa Clauses but figures of St. Mikulás. In Hungary, St. Mikulás comes on December 6. Children clean their shoes and set them in the windowsill for Mikulás to fill up with sweets.
These chocolates will be perfect for my candy jars, I thought. It was high time I changed my candy anyway. My decade-old Brach’s peppermints were all stuck together, and the white stripes on my candy canes had turned pink. If I had another Peppermint Patty disaster, I could kill a friend.
Delighted with my new find, I started loading up my cart with dozens and dozens of the chocolate Mikuláses. I couldn’t wait to get them home.
Just as I was finishing up, I heard someone say my name. “Phil!” the voice said, cheerily. It was my friend Lori from school. She’d been at my Christmas party.
Uh oh. She’s going to comment on all this candy.
“Whoa!” Lori said, staring down at my cart. “You’ve certainly got a lot of chocolates there.”
Cringing, I gave a nervous laugh. Here it comes.
“Are they for your students?” she asked.
I looked up and smiled. “…Yes…yes! That’s right…for my students. They’ve been very good this year.”