Pam was my very cutting-edge best friend in third grade. Pam read books all the time, she had color television, her mom let her watch that radical show “Sesame Street,” and they even had shag carpet. I mean, going across the street to Pam’s house was like entering a different world for
me. Her mom Louise didn’t use a vacuum, but she raked their shag carpet with a giant leaf rake. Louise was six-feet tall—as tall as Pam's dad Steve was. I’d never heard of such a thing. I thought all dads were tall and all moms weren’t as tall. Louise even wore her hair all bouffanted up like they did in the 60s, which made her even taller. In that house, they drank real Coca-cola and brand name candy bars. One day when I was over at just the opportune time, Pam was having her snack. (They were one of those pioneer families that established regular snack times. Believe it or not, the way kids are fed now at regular intervals throughout the day with snack and drink breaks is a pretty new, post postmodern invention. Before, if you were thirsty, you stuck your face in the hose in the back yard. If you were hungry between meals, you dashed through the kitchen and grabbed an apple out of the fruit basket.) So Louise was giving Pam her snack and invited me to join her. We had a candy treat I’d never heard of, a new offering from a company called Hershey. The thing came in a bright orange package and had short little chocolate cupcakes full of peanut butter. (It had actually been marketed by a guy named Reese in 1928, but Hershey bought his company in 1963.) I loved both peanut butter and chocolate, and together they were more than I could have dreamed of. It was even better than getting a contraband peek down in Pam’s family room on the Sylvania console of the Big yellow Bird singing with a green scruffy puppet in a trash can.
Soon after that wonderful day of delightful snacking, my family traveled to Hershey, PA, on a road trip vacation. Of course we toured the Hershey chocolate factory. That was back in the day when we walked down on the manufacturing floor where they made the candy, following around the oompa loompa in a lab coat pointing out the steps in creating Hershey bars. There were these giant vats that looked like pool tables with the green tops taken away. Chocolate filled the inside of the vats, with huge paddles churning the chocolate. The room was full of the vats and we walked among them, and I think we could have too easily reached into one for a quick finger swipe of chocolate if we’d wanted to—without even getting sucked down into a network of vacuum tubes beneath the sea of chocolate. But I gotta tell you, the stink was a real disappointment. It smelled nothing like their finished sweet candy bars. I was probably smelling the bitter cocoa. Or someone’s tie or hair caught and burning in a machine mechanism because there had to be absolutely no OSHA restrictions in place from what I saw.
On the way to the exit of the plant, grown-ups with clipboards were looking for people to interview. As we funneled past them, one held up a bright orange package and asked if anyone had yet had the chance to try the new peanut butter cup. I nodded shyly, uncertain how to talk to a stranger grown-up. The researchers asked my parents if they could interview me for a while, and so I went with them into a room with a table and chairs, and lots of different chocolates strewn across the table. They asked me things like what I thought of the peanut butter cup, its texture, its flavor, its packaging. Ha! They had to be glancing at each other over their glasses and clipboards, giving looks like we got a live one this time or does this girl even have a brain? I mean, I was only eight years old. And I was really pretty stupid. Well, inarticulate at least. (I just hadn’t really discovered language yet—or thought maybe). There was no way I was going to be able to convey what I thought of the texture. I didn’t even know what texture was. And I certainly didn’t know how to “convey.” Now for the taste? I could say, “Good. It was good.” That had to have lit up the switchboard afterwards as they called their R&D department to report the feedback. At least they didn’t throw anything at me in frustration. I don’t know how long they kept me in there. To me if felt like I was away from my family for a really long time. But it turned out it was worth it. To thank me, they sent me out with a sack jam-packed full of all their products, including plenty of peanut butter cups and some to share with my three siblings. It was way better than if I’d just gotten that one finger swipe from the chocolate vat.
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