I remember very little from childhood, names and faces of friends, lost teeth, birthday parties and Halloweens. I think I might have been an Indian one year, but maybe I saw that on TV. The one Halloween I can't forget, though, is the Halloween of the Flat Red Sucker.
It was a pillow case year - a year I was old enough to know that Halloween was not about costumes but about grabbing the maximum amount of candy. We had a complex system of trick or treating; the right houses, pacing, voice pitch, group composition (always have a preschooler), and candy bag. Thus the pillow case. They're huge in terms of the volume of candy that can fit inside and they make you look a little homely, so you get extra pity-candy from the soft-hearted.
I don't know what I was dressed as that year, how old I was, if it was wet or dry or cold, but I remember how I dealt with my candy when I hauled my pillow case in the door. My candy sorting process had been devised and refined over the years to provide the maximum amount of enjoyment for the longest period of time. Eat massive amounts of candy straight off and all you get is a generic sweet flavor and painful ridges on your tongue. Eat too few a day and you feel deprived and get weird white coated chocolates months down the road. My system was perfect.
I made piles across my bedroom floor, lined up in the order they were to be eaten. Candy I hated was set aside to be tossed or traded. This was primarily Butterfingers and Good and Plenty. The first piles were candy I didn't like but tolerated: non chocolate flavored tootsie rolls, tootsie roll pops, and anything cheap and waxy. The disliked-but-edible piles had up to five small candies, 3 bigger candies, or an equivalent mix of small, medium, and large.
The candies I liked a little bit followed, with 4 small, 2 big, or a mix. The more I liked a candy, the longer I waited to eat it and the less of it I ate a time. I never had piles smaller than two, even for the best candies (starburst, snickers), until the year of the Flat Red Sucker.
It sat at the very end of the line, all by itself, gloating in it's name brand wrapper. "Charms!" it shouted, reminding the wax lips of their place in the artificially flavored food chain. It's boasting went beyond it's protective wrapper; this was a bright red sucker, the most coveted flavor in any candy. It didn't matter if it was cherry, raspberry, strawberry, or poisonous berry. It was RED. Shiny, smooth, vibrant red. And it was flat. I had never seen a flat sucker and I was thrilled. I like the outside of suckers; they're delicious like jolly ranchers and you don't have to hold the giant thing in your mouth while it tears up the flesh on the roof of your mouth. The major downside of suckers is that they put the best part on the outside, leaving you with awful chocolate flavored crumble or bland chewing gum in your at the end. Sure, I'd had the empty centered Dum Dums, but those are small and their flavor second rate.
This was a Charms sucker without the ill-conceived chewing gum center. It was big, flat, untainted, with that handy paper stick to avoid mouth damage. And it would be the best flavored hard candy there could be. The "Charms" on the label and it's lovely translucent red were the guarantee.
The Flat Red Sucker glistened on it's own at the end of the row, tempting me to disrupt my own system and tear it open. But I didn't. I was faithful to my candy distribution method and consumed my little piles in the proper order. I went through my Neccos, my gummy hamburgers, and hid behind the school building with my candy cigarettes. I savored each fun-sized nibble of my Milky Ways and Snickers as the months passed by.
Finally it was The Day. Halloween and Christmas were distant memories; kids were gearing up for the Easter Haul. I left for school for the first since November without mini candies in my lunch bag, fidgeting and shifting through the school day in anticipation. I walked home as quickly as I could, ignoring the retaining walls I usually climbed and the crocuses I often stopped to admire and write hackneyed poems about. I rushed up the stairs and through my door and found my bedroom floor empty. There was no glistening red candy to welcome me home. No swaggering Charms label waiting to be torn off. My long anticipated, never-before-seen or tasted Flat Red Sucker was gone.
I tore through my room, unearthing toys and dusty homework from one corner to the next until I was convinced it couldn't be there. I cried, threw things, and maybe fell asleep for a little bit. I wandered out of my bedroom after awhile, hoping to unearth a little chocolate santa or discover the hidden stash of Easter bunnies. Instead I ran into my brother, home from school, enjoying a bright red, perfectly flat sucker.
I accused him of stealing, he claimed a friend had given it to him. I believed him for a few minutes, thought better of it, and tore through his room until I found the evidence I needed. The wrinkled square of plastic with it's little green "Charms" stamped in diagonals across the whole thing. I took it to him, I shoved it in his face, I said I knew he had taken it. He promised, he swore up and down that his friend gave it to him just that afternoon. My own brother couldn't lie to me like that. I trusted him, accepted the bizarre coincidence and tragic loss.
A few weeks later I sorted my Easter candy, crunch filled chocolate eggs first, caramel filled chocolate followed by green, yellow and orange jelly beans, with the pink and red jelly beans second to solid milk chocolates. The best candy, the smooth milk chocolates with chocolate truffle fillings were split in half. Half in tiny piles at the end of the line, half eaten seconds after the sorting was done. The system was compromised. I couldn't afford to take any chances.