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The Szaloncukor (Salon Candy)
A Hungarian Christmas Tale of Woe


This was the Christmas story I told my daughter, referenced in yesterday's story about our memories of loved ones.

By Christmas, I am just less than two months before my next birthday. Best guess, I was almost 9 when this happened.

Christmas was a big deal for me, as for all kids. My mother started baking all kinds of delectable Hungarian cookies well in advance of Christmas. She was a serious baker as well as cook, and she learned to cook and bake from my great grandmother when she went to Hungary, after she met my father at Hunter College in New York. Our food was Hungarian. I never even had spaghetti or mac and cheese except at someone else's house here in America. Let me modify that. She did cook me the plain spaghetti with melted butter on them, which I sucked up slitheringly, one at a time, calling them worms. I was imaginative.

In Hungary, we were very poor, because my father had gotten blacklisted by the government for marrying an American and bringing her back during communist times. For Christmas, we would go back to my grandparents home to celebrate, and I remember getting about 3 presents, one was a hollow chocolate boot wrapped in red cellophane which was utterly magical for me at ages 3-4. One was a pair of my favorite red leather, double t-strapped shoes, possibly made by my great grandfather who was a shoemaker (his father was a boot maker, so I suppose he wanted to diversify), and something else, maybe a book, maybe a doll, I don't know.

In America, I got spoiled much more than that, being an only child. One of my Christmases seemed a bit silly to me, because I got a bunch of games, and who to play them with? However there was a favorite that year, a game of apples to be launched into a bucket by a little spring-backed lever mechanism, which I could do without any parental pals to join me, and so I practiced my aim quite happily, trying to get the spring tension just right before letting go of the lever.

It may have been the same year that this story took place. My parents found a source of Hungarian salon candy, wrapped like fancy hard candy, twisted at both ends, with fancy, colorful foil in the middle, covering colored tissue paper with fringed ends, so a sort of stiff wrapping. The candy was mouth-wateringly delectable, chocolate covered, somewhat firm but soft, easy to bite through, with perfectly flavored fruit, chocolate, vanilla, and who knows what other amazing middles. It may have originally, back in the day when it got its name, I don't know, been something put out for guests at in the "salon" or visitor-receiving area of a fancy home. Just my guess.

For us, it was strung together by needle and thread through one end of the tissue wrapping, just outside of the twist, then strung around the tree like your cranberries or tinsel. With two busy parents, it wasn't hard to start tasting undetected. I had one, then two, then went away from the tree. Then a little bit later came back with a dilemma: the candy tasted so good, I was having a hard time staying away. How to eat the candy without being caught? I took another, then had a thought: what if I could close the wrapper back up, making sure the foil and paper middle held its original, candy-filled shape, while I twisted the end back up? Eureka, a solution! I had another couple, then went away. This meant I was carefully choosing my alone times with the tree to have my way with the candy.

This went on for two days or so with what had been two pounds of salon candy. The first time my parents reached for a candy, I held my breath, hoping it would be a full wrapper. By the second day, the little locust had done some real damage. I made sure I left the room when I saw my parents reach again, watching from behind the doorway of the next room. I saw my parents reach, then reach again, murmured sounds of disappointment and annoyance. I had been discovered. I could hardly contain my laughter, but contain it I did, because when I got in trouble, it was often very unpleasant, like a spanking. This time, I got a Christmas reprieve. I was just being a kid, and a little Hun at that. There's a joke about how you make Chicken Paprikas? First, steal the chicken.

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