Thursday, March 8, 2012

You Can't Take It With You

"Mommy? Where's the Chocolate factory? Did we pass it, yet?"

"Look left! Out Kenny's window!There! With the flag on top. See the clock?"

"There it is Madeleine! The Chocolate factory!" I watch the silent dreams oozing through the little ones' eyes as the Schrafft factory, alive and functioning only in a child's hopeful imagination, slips away as we make our way through Boston and head towards Cape Cod. Home. That building is the one bright spot on our trip every time until we reach the Bourne Bridge which signals the last 15 minutes of our journey.

For the next hour and a half some of us daydream about chocolate. How to get it and how to hide it. Me? I freeze it. Nobody else in my house eats frozen chocolate. 

Once upon a time, in the mid 1870's, there were three little girls who were uprooted from their home in Truro on the Cape and forced to put down roots in Somerville, Massachusetts with their parents, Edmund and Elizabeth Rich.  Lizzie, Addie, and Mertie lived on Washington Street, right down the street from the 16 yr-old Scrafft candy factory on Cambridge Street, Boston.

For 200 years there had been Riches on the Cape eking out a living as seamen. But one Rich family left one year and never came back.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've found that moves are hard on children. If you have to move make sure there's at least a candy store down the road. Makes missing the sand and the salt air (or anything that yours have left behind) a bit more bearable.

George West's Market was a frequent stop for any of us kids who managed to find a quarter to exchange for a small brown paper sack of penny candy. That habit fueled my dream to someday own a candy store where all the candy would be free. Every time I pedaled my bike the mile to the store, crossing one bridge and a set of railroad tracks I thought,"Grown ups just don't get it. Candy is important."

The only thing that ranked up there with the frequent trips to the candy store were the 4am wake-up shakes from my dad to go fishing and lobstering in his Boston Whaler. 

"Please Daddy!" Addie Rich would beg her father Edmund. "Just a couple of pennies. Please! I'll share with Mertie even! And I promise to eat your vegetables at dinner tonight!"

"They aren't MY vegetables. I just sell them. And, yes, you will, by golly. You'll eat every bite! You know it wasn't that long ago that you were complaining about all the fish you ate and 'Couldn't I please bring home something else for dinner every once in a while?' Well I gave you your wish. You got vegetables and now all you want is candy!" 

With a sigh and a grin he handed the coins over to his princess. And off she'd run, salivating all the way to town, leaving Edmund to his daydreams of his days on the water, salt air beating on his face.

The first move is the hardest. Roots are strong and deep. After that the heartstrings aren't wound so tight and feet get itchy for new scenery pretty routinely. After about six years selling veggies from a cart on the streets of Somerville, and for reasons only known to Edmund and Elizabeth (I actually think they were bribed), the two packed up and followed their oldest daughter Lizzie to New Hampshire where they'd mingle with cows and vegetables up close and personal, and enjoy watching their grandchildren play on the farm.

I'm feeling their joy and their claustrophobia. Feeling land-locked is hard to shake. Cobbett's pond was across from the farm, and that was something I guess. Maybe it was the house busting at the seams with grandkids, or perhaps they missed being closer to the shore, or the hustle of city life that one needs when they retire to keep their mind active. Whatever their reason, by 1900 Edmund and Elizabeth moved back to Massachusetts and in with their youngest daughter, Mertie, now married to Ralph Smith, in Somerville.

Guess what Ralph did for a living? He wasn't a fisherman, or a vegetable cart pusher. He was a pusher of a different kind. He was a candy man! A confectioner. My dream came true. It was for somebody else, but it still came true. Honestly, I think that's what lured Edmund and Elizabeth away from the farm and into their home.

Edmund was a widower in 1920, Elizabeth waiting for the census to be taken that year before she died. For 14 more years Edmund aged in a childless house without his beloved to help pass the time.

But he had candy.

For a week I haven't been able to shake the image of him sitting in his rocker, eyes half-way closed, right hand pulling a chocolate ever so carefully away from his lips, desperate to catch the stretching band of caramel before it lands on his lap, never noticing his daughter Mertie standing at the corner of the room watching her dad savoring a moment with some chocolate. 

At 97 I'll bet Edmund was wondering about his beloved chocolate and if perhaps there would be an exception to the rule, "You can't take it with you", as he was approaching the bridge to his next life? 

Maybe that's why he lived so long. He realized he couldn't.


  1. Ohhh..I eat frozen chocolate too!

    I only lived away from the shore in college but I know I'd miss it. I might be very tempted to move to the mountains though, they are pretty Awesome, I loved visiting them but there was a very BIG river right out the back door.

    As Always...



    1. Thanks Jane! You ARE awesome for dropping by! What a struggle this post was. It almost went into the deep freeze itself! LOL!

  2. What special family stories! I enjoyed all the details.



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