My mother loved her chocolates. A box of Russell Stover was her favorite, though she'd never turn down a Whitman's Sampler. Anything better was just too good to be eaten and only meant to be admired and sniffed, like the cap from her Chanel No. 5. But her Russell Stover chocolates were an evening delight that she wouldn't dare have saved for a better day. She always kept a box in the drawer of an end table, just within reach. At the end of the night, after the dishes were done and she and my dad sat back in their reclining chairs to watch the sitcoms, she'd open the drawer, set the box on the table beside her and nibble on two or three, as if she were snatching little bites of luxury and couldn't be more pleased with herself for the itty bitty sin. Then one day, my dad got an idea.
My mom had stopped driving when her eyesight started to go, so my dad took on the grocery shopping. She would plan the week's meals, give him the grocery list and he'd head to the store. Every week, it was pretty much the same. Meat, milk, coffee, and beer. The staples of the Midwest working class, with a whole lot of canned goods and ice cream thrown in. Oh, and a box of chocolates, she'd call out as he was heading out the door. She never wrote it down. It felt more like a present that way. Otherwise, she'd have to wait for him to forget her birthday or have an affair if she was going to receive an impromptu gift of chocolates.
"Well one day I thought I'd play a trick on her," my dad explained to me with a chuckle one afternoon while we were having a cup of tea. "When she went to bed, I counted how many chocolates were left in the box. Then the next night, after she'd gone to bed, I counted them again -- and then I went downstairs where I had hidden another box of chocolates, and I took out that exact number of chocolates and replaced them. And I started doing it every night." His voice took on a tone of being very puzzled.
"What was her reaction when she realized what you were doing?" I asked him, imagining my mom figuring it out pretty quickly and doing something similar to his cigars, like replacing the tobacco with tea leaves, which is just the sort of thing she would do. She once scraped the meringue off a lemon meringue pie and replaced it with whipped-up soap suds, just because her grandma told her the kids had to eat in a separate room during a dinner party. "I got punished for that one, but it was worth it," she laughed. So I knew what she was capable of, and images of my mom and dad in an ever-escalating battle of pranks flew through my brain so fast I was laughing out loud.
"Well that's just it," my dad said in wonder, laughing along with me. "That was a year ago! And now every night I still have to count the chocolates, then head downstairs and get some new ones to replace the ones she'd eaten." He said it as if it had become a tiring routine brought on by age like having to sterilize his dentures. "You'd think she would have noticed by now that she keeps eating out of the same box of candy and it never runs out!"
We had a good laugh over the never-ending box of chocolates. It continued for another couple of years, until my dad's cancer had spread too far and he couldn't buy the groceries anymore. I was gone when he died, marooned on an island in the Indian Ocean; getting back wasn't easy. But when I returned, I asked my mother how her chocolates were holding up.
"Oh, I'm almost out. You know, I started eating a lot more of my chocolates since your dad got sick, because it seems I run out of them a lot more often these days."
I had to tell her the truth, never one to let a good laugh get away, and wanting her to know that for all their bickering, he loved her enough to count her chocolates every night, and replace the exact number before he went to bed. He might not have given her many unexpected boxes of chocolate, but he gave her one never-ending box that lasted both of them for years.
Her face turned red, and her surprise and embarrassment were quickly masked by her unconvincing insistence that she knew it all along. But every time I saw her eat her Russell Stover chocolates after that, I'd watch her admire and sniff them for just a moment longer, a small moment of luxury turned to never-ending love.
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