Caramel Treat

…I loved caramels: butterscotch caramels to be exact.  Our family dentist loved that I loved caramels. Those small square caramels wrapped in a thin clear cellophane type wrapping made by Kraft foods.  Although calling a Kraft caramel food was a stretch by any measure and an insult to the accepted food group of the day.  These caramels could be had for a penny, a cent, and sometimes, if you were really lucky, three for a cent.  They were usually found in our local confectionary store beside those other dental worthy snacks called black balls.

Soft, chewy, sticky, gooey, teeth clinging caramels.  Light brown in colour, full of sugary sweetness.  Soft to the teeth, sooo gooey, as if its elasticity would somehow break down into its heavenly, savoury, parts.  I’d buy those things daily, usually in the morning on my way to school. Not to be too pretentious I’d buy them in lots of three, or six or nine. Enough of a fix to do me for the day.  Suck on them?  Sure. Chew on them?  Sure! It didn’t really matter to me as long as I got my caramel fix, but nurturing that taste for as long as possible was for me the real test of a real treat for a real caramel pro like me. Kraft, not lying on its caramel laurels, did come up with a darker chocolate coloured confectionary but I never really liked them as much as those original caramel coloured, caramel tasting, caramel treat. This was before the days of dental floss.  If you were unlucky enough to get a wad of caramel caught between your teeth you had two options.  Let it be and wait until your saliva churning enzymes slowly destroyed the texture and gooeyness of the caramel into its separate but equally sticky parts and savour the caramel sweetness and taste until it eventually disappears, or, and this was a really gross option, stick your finger into your mouth, find the offending wad and scrape it out with your finger being careful not to drool, or have a stream of caramel juice run down your chin.  Be careful not to slurp, which was a dead caramel sucking giveaway.  Suck your fingers dry.  This option is the most dangerous as it is a dead give away to the preying eyes of teachers, classmates and the like that you had contraband of some sort in your mouth during class.  A caramel craze of a ten year old?  Weird perhaps. I was scarred for life but then again this from a kid who used to buy a chocolate chip ice cream cone early mornings, before school, and lick that sucker dry in the dead of winter, when it was as cold as Sister Mary Bernice’s sense and sensibilities. Somewhat akin to laying one’s tongue on a cold winter’s day on cold metal.

Art O’Neill, the older gangly looking lad who shared an intimate experience with me and Sister Mary Bernice’s strap, had a younger brother named Gerard, my middle name’s namesake. Gerard was, like his older brother, somewhat thin and sickly but with a rapacious sense of mischief.  Incorrigible he was with a wicked devilish and warped sense of humour. Indeed, he possessed all of the pre requisites that came with attending a Catholic Separate School.   I can say that now but initially I didn’t think much at all about Gerard. He was one of eight children of the O’Neill’s clan.   A good Catholic Irish family: dirt poor, pious, strict, God fearing members of our parish and congregation.  Just like the rest of us but in varying degrees of dirt pooriness.   Real working class for sure: lower middle class but dirt poor only because of all of the good catholic mouths to feed. Post war baby boomers we were.  In those days procreation, to go forth and multiply, was code for Catholicism.  There was no need for a secret handshake. Anything over 2 kids was a dead giveaway…