This morning, as I sat down at the oversized island in my sister’s kitchen, eating a bowl of fried rice my brother-in-law made, picking out the bits of sausage in the dish—the only dish I’m willing to do that for as a pescatarian, I noticed a handful of Werther’s Originals in a bowl in front of me. Enough to catch my attention. Enough to distract me from my breakfast. The shiny golden foil wrapper resembling the color of 18 karat gold covered in yellow-tinted cellophane. The candy’s unique oval shape. Its recess in the middle where the groove of the tongue fits nicely. The other side smooth as a mirror glaze on a cake on the Great British Baking Show.
I used to carry Werther’s in my purse all the time but stopped a few years ago after I read the obituary of my ex-husband’s girlfriend of two years (may she rest in peace). My ex-husband and I had dated for three years before getting married. The marriage lasted less than two years, the same amount of time it took us to finalize our divorce in 2015. Not because it was contentious, but because neither one of us knew how to deal with the matter at hand. The paperwork from the agency handling the divorce would arrive and sit at our respective places unsigned, unreturned. At one point they checked in with us to see if we still intended to dissolve the marriage. We’d meet up as friends over dinner, sharing meals and a bottle of wine, looking like a couple to anyone who would’ve been watching. Our friendship confused my sister and my family. If you’re still friends, why not stay married? They would’ve done anything for me to stay married. Anything to avoid bringing the disgrace of divorce into our divorce-free Filipino family.
She had passed suddenly. They’d just moved in together after dating for a few years. She was his first serious relationship since we finished. I had yet to have a relationship as serious as his, so I felt behind, as if it were a competition. She came from a famous, wealthy family so unfortunately the gossip columns took hold of the story. My humble, gentle, innocent ex-husband suddenly on the pages of tabloid magazines. Nothing could be more disturbing to me.
I knew nothing about her. Knew nothing of her personality, interests, likes or dislikes. But when I read about how she was known to carry Werther’s in her purse to distribute randomly to friends, I felt like I knew her. Because it’s something I do, too. Well, something I did. I’d buy a pack of the Werther’s hard candy (not the chewy caramel ones, yuck), a pack of Butter Rum Lifesavers, and would often have a Heath Bar tucked away somewhere as well. My boyfriend says I like old people candy. He does, too. In fact, when we first started dating, he pegged me as a Butter Rum Lifesaver person. Without saying a word, I got up, grabbed my purse in the other room, and presented him with an opened roll of that exact flavor. Once, I offered my niece, a teenager, a Butter Rum Lifesaver. She looked at me and said, “Who buys that??”
My love for old-fashioned flavors must’ve begun in childhood when my maternal grandfather, who’d emigrated from the Philippines with my grandmother to live with us in San Jose, would pull them out of his pocket like a magician and inconspicuously place them in our hands like we held some great secret. He’d cycle to Alpha Beta, the local grocery store, and buy the Brach’s butterscotch candies in bulk. Back home, he’d wrap them in a plastic bag, and then place that bag in another plastic bag, wrap a dozen rubber bands around it, and store it in a dresser drawer. To get at the candies became a small project that took several minutes of undoing and unwrapping and unwrapping again.
Right after my ex-husband and I got married, his mother (may she rest in peace) passed down several items to me from my ex-husband’s paternal grandmother, who had raised him. The items included fur and mink, which I had to respectfully decline given my love for animals. One of the items, to my surprise, was a vintage Heath Bar box that contained jewelry. His grandmother loved Heath Bars too? At the time, I took it as a sign that we were meant to spend our lives together. Without having known his late grandmother, I knew a lot about her through her candy choice.
Just like his late ex-girlfriend who I knew nothing, yet everything, about. People like us who are drawn to old-fashioned candy are nostalgic, (overly) sensitive, domestic, deeply loyal, honest, giving of everything we have, appreciative of small things, aware of the subtle changes in moods and emotions in people when others are not. We can be reflective, interior, grounded, yearning for simplicity, and seekers of silence and solitude. Werther’s and Butter Rum and Heath Bar aren’t just candy, a way to satisfy a sweet tooth; they’re a way of life.
The fact that my ex-husband’s late girlfriend used to carry them in her purse like me shook me enough to stop buying Werther’s. In my mind, the candy has been redefined and in some ways is no longer mine. For now, the ghost of the candies rest in my purse, knowing that they’ll always belong.