After Gram passed away in 2003, I was told that, being her first grandchild, I had her wrapped around my finger. She may have been wrapped around my finger, but I was her perfume, wanting to be as close as humanly possible, to seep into her, to be on her heart.
Though the distance between our houses spanned a dozen states, perhaps living afar fostered and supported the bond we shared. When we were together, we were unleashed with reckless abandon, our combination, deadly; the curly child-terror with twinkling green eyes and enough Hell behind them to frighten those who recognized the twinkle and the matriarch with enough seniority to give the child the green light as well as enough love to be her wingman.
We would reunite every Christmas Eve as she and Pop collected us from the snowy airport. Dressed to the nines for Christmas Eve dinner with the extended family, we'd arrive home at 5 Horseshoe Lane. Grammy and I would make a beeline for the parlor. Adorned in mahogany, bronze reindeer lining the center of the heavy wooden table, nothing else mattered but the bright red box Gram would have, waiting, atop the glass-paned cabinets. She'd reach up high, producing the Strawbridges seasonal chocolate box. My hands would fly to my mouth, the suspense of the past year bubbling up from inside me in the form of giggles. Stealthily, we'd make sure everyone else was either socializing or checking on dinner.
We'd jimmy off the lid and peer at the first layer of perfectly presented assorted shapes. Now, Gram and I didn't mess around; we knew Strawbridges’ game—they didn't include the box “legend,” decoding which chocolates held which fillings—better to let people be surprised. Well, we weren't having any of that shit. We were after only one type of treat: the caramel-filled chocolates.
Sadly, from year to year, we would both forget what specific shape these chocolates were—on account of my young age and her old age. But Gram was always prepared. She grew her nails long—perfect for evening back scratches. As we sat in the parlor, I would guess and hand her a chocolate. She would take it gingerly, pretend to examine it, smell it, etc. Then, she'd turn it over and very gently push her pinky nail into its smooth bottom, revealing the chocolate‘s filling.
“Cherry cordial—ugh!” We'd grimace at each other and quickly return the abomination to the box, its top pristine, seemingly untouched. We'd do this until we struck liquid, caramel gold. Then we'd both inwardly squeal with delight, look in the other room to make sure the coast was still clear, turn back to each other, beaming, and devour our treasures.