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The infamous jelly bean caper

BY Rachael O. Phillips

I tootle my grocery cart along, choosing skim milk, black beans and Fiber Buddies, but I pause near the “Seasonal Items” aisle, my instincts faithful as that of a pointer spaniel.

Chocolate.

Bags of it, pounds of it, massed in the form of eggs, bunnies and chicks.

Mature adult that I am, I restrain myself from filling my cart. In only a few short days, the price of Reese’s Peanut Butter Bunnies and plump bags of Dove eggs with almonds will fall by 50 percent.

If there’s anything better than chocolate, it’s cheap chocolate.

But the struggle is real. Focus on something else, I tell myself. Something, anything other than the rich, luscious candy calling my name.

A bag of jelly beans helps me lose the trance. Because they are my favorites? No way. I liked them as a kid, especially the green ones – minty, gooey treats like chewing gum, only my mother let me swallow them. But jelly beans wouldn’t hold my attention now, except for a decades-old mental playback that still fills me with mingled mother-rage and triumph.

In my mind, I return to my sister’s kitchen, where we were sneaking a cup of coffee and chocolate cream-filled cupcakes she’d baked for our get-together. As children, we couldn’t wait for the day we’d stop sharing the same bedroom and the same oxygen. As adults, though, we lived two thousand miles apart. Between us, we had five children, ages 6 and under. So we gladly welcomed the help of our younger brother Ken, age 22, the big, handsome hero of his little nieces and nephews. He swung them, threw balls and told them stories about his valiant exploits as a Pizza Hut waiter.

Jean and I had almost made it to the bottoms of our cups when my 5-year-old wandered in.

“Whatcha need, hon?” I resigned myself to her usual tie-my-shoes, fix-my-toy, swat-my-sister requests.

Instead, her little face crumpled. She drew close as if sharing a terrible secret. “Mommy,” she whispered, “I don’t want to hurt Uncle Kenny’s feelings. But these jelly beans he gave us taste terrible. They hurt my tongue.” With that, she deposited the green, gooey mess into my hand.

A fearless young mother, I took no thought for my own safety. I touched my own tongue to the gicky-sticky gunk and felt flames devour my taste buds.

“Jalapeno,” I told my sister, who had gone to the window to check on our kids. “Ken fed our babies jalapeno jelly beans.”

Steaming, she motioned me to join her. Sure enough, our offspring covered the swingset like a flock of sick sparrows, with green tongues hanging out and eyes slightly crossed.

Before cold mother fury could send us both out the back door, Ken entered and helped himself to coffee and several cupcakes.

“Mmmm.” Ken snarfed two down with a guileless smile. “What kind are they?”

My eyes met Jean’s for a brief telepathic moment. Yes. He deserves it.

“French white-worm-filled chocolate,” I told him.

“I got them at the gourmet shop around the corner.” Jean deadpanned.

Kenny stopped mid-bite. His sixth cupcake sank to the counter, and his face turned green as the infamous jelly beans. He backed into the bathroom, gagging, while we triumphantly bore a plate of cupcakes outside to our children who, thankfully, still trusted their mothers.

Later, we relished telling him the truth. Kenny couldn’t believe it. Such betrayal! At the hands of his virtuous, coupon-clipping, Sunday-school-attending big sisters!

“You lied to me.” He glared at us. “You lied!”

“And you, mister, fed jalapeno jelly beans to my children.” Jean glared back.

“You’re lucky we didn’t shoot you.” My fingers still itched at the thought. “Do that again to our kids, or anything like it, and you will die. S-l-o-w-l-y.”

Although twice our size, Ken moved back a step.

Decades later, I still feel an inner nuclear glow at the sight of green jelly beans and the thought of such sweet, sweet revenge.

Some things feel even better than chocolate, 50 percent off.