At the end of her life, my mother found that heart medicines ruined bittersweet chocolate for her. A prime oral and olfactory delight became very unpleasant. We were sad together for her.
She waited over a year to tell me. She wanted to be positive, to see that the condition remained, and most of all, not to have me share in that sadness.
There were three of us growing up, her, my sister and I. Though we had a large extended family, we moved often and our trio was the constant. We rather liked each other and had a lot of overlap — including the love, even adoration, of chocolate.
Here in Beantown, we think of the cocao bean from which cocoa and chocolate come. Frankly, you can have every one of those mushy and insipid potted brown beans many associate with Boston with my blessings. Keep your hands off my dark, unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate though.
My mother, Wanda, was not self-indulgent often enough. She worked very hard, she raised two kids solo, and she volunteered at church and elsewhere literally to the day she dropped dead.
However, a great piece of chocolate was worthy of comment and deep enjoyment. As surely as a Zen master might, she taught me delayed gratification and focused satisfaction. She could sit in a sort of trance of patient greed, nibbling a sliver of great dark chocolate, allowing it to dissolve, rampaging through her oral and nasal cavities. While others might curl up with a bottle of booze, getting less alert by the moment, she preferred an intensifying pleasure. My sister and I learned by observation and have likewise benefited. It is a gift that keeps on enchanting.
Growing up, our Christmas stockings had birthright and boomer-appropriate treats, like the necessity of Life Savers Story Books. There was always a bar of good chocolate for later. Also, the older adults invariably gave each other — and by default the room of us —massive, compartmentalized chocolate samplers. A scan of the brown tones and another of the legend on the lid gave the real chocolate fiends the location of the goodies. We’d go for a chocolate filled dark chocolate, none of those cloying strawberry mess or cream cherry fillings distracting from the real thing.
So now Wanda is in ashes, half of them in an inlaid box on an office bookcase top. I do my part still to recall her enjoyment of the good stuff. My stocking too contains several bars of meditation-quality chocolate. Of course, I give as good as I get and continue the tradition.
I understand there are some who do not like chocolate and a few who find it makes them sick. I would not weep for them. It was for my mother who remembered what used to bring such simple, but deep pleasure, that I reserved my empathy.
A Christmas without chocolate…that’s a tragedy.