Mike Wilson: An unexpected guest

Published 12:00 pm Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Back when our girls were small, my teaching schedule at Hampden-Sydney College allowed us to make a grand sweep of the eastern U.S. during summer vacations. We had eager relatives spread from New Jersey to Chicago to Memphis to Parsons, so we usually loaded up the station wagon (remember those?) and struck out from Southside Virginia to visit all of them in about a one-month period. Long car trips with small children can be trying at times, but looking back now I can see that they were veritable cakewalks compared to a more recent attempt to replicate those voyages with the “Chocolate Baby.”

We’re in Chicago at my in-laws’ great condo overlooking the Chicago River. Whenever we are outdoors, the prevailing breeze is filling the whole district with the delicious aroma of chocolate. I learned that not too far away is an old and revered chocolate processing plant, Brommer’s, which actually roasts cacao but also has a retail shop.

We enter the store for the first time and are dazzled by the astounding selection of chocolate delicacies. We each have our own tastes, and we won’t be back again very soon, so before long we find our cart laden with chocolate-pecan turtles; dark and milk chocolate bars; chocolate-covered blueberries, cherries, and raisins; giant malted milk balls; peppermint patties; and other items I have probably forgotten. If you had suggested before we entered that I would expend a three-digit sum on chocolate candy, I would have laughed heartily, but the fact is I cheerfully lay my card on the counter and take possession of a very heavy bag –filled with carefully weighed smaller individual bags, much to the annoyance of those behind us in line–with the ominous fine-print warning, “Store at 70 degrees.”

It is when we get back to the condo that we realize that our loot most definitely can’t be left in the car, so we take it inside and leave it near the door. So far, so good…

We leave early the next day for the eight-hour trip to Memphis, and when we stop for lunch it suddenly occurs to me that we again cannot leave the chocolate in the car for very long because of the temperature. We all know by now thanks to public service announcements how the temperature inside a car can spike in a very short time in direct sunlight. We take the “Chocolate Baby” inside the restaurant and it sits in the booth with us; someone jokes about asking for a high chair. After one more similar stop, we make it to Memphis. We are pleased to share some of our haul with all the kinfolk there, but I estimate it still weighs about 20 pounds — a pretty hefty baby! — when we start the 12-hour trip to North Carolina.

We already know we will have to take it in at rest stops, but when we arrive at a motel for the night, the temperature is still an issue, so the “Chocolate Baby” has to come inside and sleep with us, too. I refuse to read it a story at bedtime, and I will not rent a port-a-crib! We finally make it home without any untoward incidents, and we slowly dispatch the contents of that bag. In the end, it is worth it!

Now, whenever we are transporting anything apt to suffer from heat — flowers, cupcakes, fresh strawberries, etc. — to us it is a “baby.” We are lucky our Chicago folks have moved up to a northern suburb; in my old age, I am not sure I can take so much pressure any more. I sure do miss that aroma in their old neighborhood, though.

MIKE WILSON is a former Hampden-Sydney Spanish professor and 13-year resident of Prince Edward County, who now calls North Carolina home. He can be reached at jmwilson@catawba.edu.