May 29, 2023 | Rome, Italy

Butterscotch candy

By |2018-03-21T19:04:36+01:00February 21st, 2015|"Lost In Translation"|
Sometimes butterscotch candy is as good as it gets.

once met a proud man who while describing his grandmother grew teary-eyed. Young and broke and with no one to turn to, he humbly asked his grandmother for money. She gave him what he needed without ever asking that it be returned. In fact, she never again mentioned the “gift.” He went on to become a very successful and wealthy businessman.

He loved his grandmother dearly, and after her death received a box of letters he had written her over the years as well as her ledger. In the ledger, he saw that the money he’d once received was all she had had in the bank. He’d never known.

My own grandmother once gave me a butterscotch candy once while “visiting” my family. She was in between apartments. We kids gave her space. She needed lots of it. She was cold and not fond of being a mother, let alone a grandmother. But our other grandparents had died years before and she was all we knew.

So when she gave me the butterscotch candy I savored its sugary surface until its sharp slivers threatened to slice my tongue like glass. It didn’t matter that I didn’t like the flavor. I felt like I finally had a real grandmother. That lasted until she left and we didn’t see her again for many years, when she arrived for another “visit.” When she died late at an old age there were no letters let alone warm or teary feelings. My mother called me with the news and the only memory I was left with was of the sticky sweet butterscotch candy melting in my mouth. Listening to man speak so fondly of his grandmother elicited a familiar pang of envy. Such envy has gusted through my life. It blew in each time I heard a grandparent story, or when I sat silently during “grandparents day” at school as a child, or when I saw a grandchild and grandparent lovingly interacting. I’d suddenly feel a deep sense of longing. A longing that my own children, who are blessed with remarkably loving grandparents, will fortunately never know.

With my longing came the inevitable daydreams. Over the years, whenever I came across an old man or old woman I adored, I secretly put them on my ever-expanding list of potential grandparents. These daydreams and fantasies kept my longing at bay. They also made me feel warm inside. I borrowed from others to fill an obvious void within.

My grandparent candidates have included Jimmy Carter, Jane Goodall and “Grandmama” from the Masterpiece series, “Downton Abbey,” though there are plenty of non-celebrities, too.

Like the very old Japanese man in Honolulu who after we smiled at each other when I entered a grocery store found me minutes later and presented me with a cardboard throwing star that he’d made from a brochure. He bowed his head while giving to me. I thanked him and bowed my head, after which he smiled again, turned, and scurried away. Looking at him I dreamed of being in an old living room sipping rich green tea while attentively listening as he taught me how to make origami and cardboard weapons to play with — my Ojiichan and me.

Then there was also the old and very beautiful Frenchwoman who lived down the road from the house I stayed at while visiting Spain. My host introduced me to her and from that moment on I was captivated. She told how she met her late husband who had died more than 20 years before and with whom she was still deeply in love. She kept his photo above her bed. I saw photos of her grandchildren and great grandchildren. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke of them and she smiled lovingly at all the photos. I dreamed of sharing wine with her in her parlor while listening to many stories about my own ancestors, wondering which one I most resembled — my Mémé and me.

My list goes on and on. I could probably fill a book with their descriptions and their stories. Which is a good thing because it means that they exist. Even Katherine, my own grandmother, left me with warmth and love represented by a single butterscotch candy. I’m still grateful for that little gesture. I’m not so sure her personality would have allowed for anything more. I’d like to think that though the butterscotch candy wasn’t her life savings, it came with the same kind of love and affection as the man got from his grandmother, who literally gave him all she had.

At least that’s my daydream.

About the Author:

Jennifer Allison wrote the "lost in Translation" column from 2014 to mid-2018.