Barley Sugar Memories


Christmas is the season of family. Of warmth and home and memories.

The Christmas season is the season of nostalgia.  As the days grow colder and darker, and the first soft flakes of snow begin to fall, we are swept with emotion, and the special memories of days gone by.

For me, most memories are centered on my children.  I remember the excitement of buying just the right toys so that I could bring the magic to Christmas morning.  My heart would pound with excitement as I watched my little ones rush to the tree.  The sound of their voices, amazed and delighted and somehow always surprised that their wishes had come true; I can hear those voices even now, echoing in my heart and reminding me of how much joy it gave us to give to them.

I remember the stockings, filled with candy and puzzles and tiny, silly toys.  How I loved sitting in my bed, watching as they poured their treasures onto the rug and called to each  other to share what they had found!

But sometimes my Christmas memories go farther back.  Back to the time when I was the little one in my brand new flannel pajamas, lying awake in the magical glow of the orange window lights, wishing with every ounce of my strength for snow, for reindeer, for that one special gift.

As always, this Christmas season has been filled with catalogues and offers of bargains. Now that I no longer have a list of special wishes to fill, I find myself overwhelmed with page after page of glossy offerings, from outdoor gear to electronic gadgets; it seems that I can have it all.  For the most part, I quickly flip through the pages, and add the shiny booklet to my recycle bin.

But tonight, as I went through the mail, I found myself enraptured by the pages of a little catalogue called “The Vermont Country Store”.  It was selling maple syrup, cast iron cookware and old fashioned jelly glasses.  Each page contained a sweet, but expensive, trip into Old New England.  I turned the pages, smiling at the reminders of my childhood: Turkish taffee, Skye Bars, Boston Baked Beans.  I laughed at the idea of anyone buying the silly glass “log cabin” filled with maple syrup.

Then I turned the page, and found a picture of “barley sugar candy”, and I went rushing back in time.  Back to my childhood. Back to the time when we would travel from our home in the suburbs into the city of Boston, either to shop for Easter clothes or to visit the “Enchanted Village” and the Christmas lights on Boston Common.  Each of these trips was exciting, magical, memorable.  My siblings and I would put on our best clothes, holding tight to our Mother’s hand as we gazed with wide eyes at the buildings and the hurrying people. We knew that our parents had grown up in the city, but it was a foreign land to us. It was scary and seductive, mysterious and so much fun.

And as I looked tonight at the picture of the barley candy, one clear memory came back to me, as sharply as if it had happened today.

We were in Boston with my mother and her mother, my Nana.  We had gone to the Boston Public Gardens for a ride on the swan boats. It was probably spring, and we were most likely shopping for our annual Easter outfits.  I’m not sure.

What I do remember is that we had gone to “Bailey’s” for ice cream, and that I had eaten a dish of butter crunch served in a silvery metal bowl shaped like the petals of a flower.  I can remember my spoon clinking against the side of the dish as the creamy sweetness melted into the bottom; I can remember the sound of my Nana’s laughter as she talked to my mother.

As we got up to leave, and the grown ups went to pay the bill, we saw a big glass jar standing on the counter, next to the cash register. It was filled with bright red lollipops, in the shape of little lobsters.  I remember how the light glowed through the cellophane, and I remember my Nana reaching out and grabbing a whole handfull of those treats.  “These are barley sugar!” she told us, as she handed them into our waiting hands.  “They’re special.”

I remember how sweet and how special those pops tasted; like nothing I had ever enjoyed.  Like honey, like maple, like something totally unique.  They were hard, and thick and they lasted the whole long train trip home.

I had forgotten all about barley sugar pops until tonight, when one page of one Christmas catalogue brought me back to a special memory of my Nana and my childhood.

19 thoughts on “Barley Sugar Memories

  1. This is a beautiful story, and you told it so eloquently! This was a real treat for me to step back in time with you, thank you. I’m looking forward to Christmas this year for the sole purpose of watching other people enjoy what I got for them. 🙂 The true meaning of Christmas really does come with age.

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  2. The Enchanted Village lives, just not at Jordan Marsh anymore. Someone bought it and re-assembled it somewhere else in New England. I have friends who have visited it. I have wonderful memories of the Village and the manger on the Common with the live animals. I remember barley pops in the shape of lobsters, too. The Vermont Country Store has all the perfumes my nana and mother and aunt wore, plus the Bonomo’s taffy I loved. That catalogue brings back a ton of memories.

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    • Oh, you’re right; it was Jordan Marsh! And I remember walking along the walkway on the Common past the live reindeer, too! They always looked too small, but still: pure magic!
      I think I might just have to spend way too much money buying molasses puff andy and Boston Baked Beans this year.
      Merry Nostalgic Christmas, my friend!

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  3. Moms, what a great story. I can taste each and every word.

    I love that catalog, too. Last year I bought Turkish Taffy — I hadn’t seen it in about 30 years. My teeth STILL hurt! Way too sweet, but the smell transported me back to the 1960s. It was wonderful. After the first bite, I simply inhaled.

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