Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Chocolate Coins

by Joel Haas

At first I thought I had found a trove of chocolate coins!

One of our favorite chocolate candy treats in the 1950s was chocolate coins wrapped in stiff gold foil. With a design front and back, and lettering just like real coins, the candies were sold in little faux nets bags to resemble “pirates purses.” The challenge of eating chocolate coins was carefully removing the stiff gold foil, preserving the design of the coin. Slowly and carefully, we’d reassemble the empty wrappers later, to make play money. We never got chocolate coins except on special occasions like Christmas, or Easter.


Here it was July, and I had found about a dozen of them right here in the drawer of Dad’s bedside table!

Conflicting emotions flooded into my young mind. What an unexpected treat! How could Dad have kept all these chocolate coins to himself all this time? He was always generous with me and my brothers when it came to chocolate candy and treats. I was hurt he had been holding out on us!

I examined the coins in greater detail. The gold foil glittered and the only thing keeping me from tearing open several of them and gobbling them down was trying to balance in my mind how many I could eat and Dad not notice them missing? I had never seen this brand of chocolate coins and they were not in the usual pirate’s bag purse.

Too, all the coins were the same size. Other chocolate coins ranged in sizes from about the size of a nickel to a quarter to an old fashioned silver dollar. All of these seemed to be about the size of a 50 cent piece.

Gingerly, I pried one apart. The sides did not come apart as easily as the chocolate coins I was used to.

When I finally got the wrapper off, I was surprised and disappointed to find what looked like a greasy, twisted rubber band or a flat mushroom. Carefully pulling it out, I gave it an exploratory nibble. YEECH! It was definitely rubber bands! Rubber bands, but definitely, very weird rubber bands. Poking at the middle of it, I found I could unroll it like a long sock. It seemed pretty greasy, but I was curious, “how far could this thing be unrolled?”

Quite a long ways, as I discovered, but just as I had unrolled it as far as it was going to go, my mother came into the room.

I might be in trouble.

On the one hand, I might be able to get out of it by showing Mom that Dad obviously had been holding out on us all with the candy coins. On the other hand, these were not the usual candy coins. A neutral course was best, I decided.

“What is this?” I turned to Mom.

Whatever normal chastisement I was due for went right out of Mom’s head when confronted with her small son holding forth a fully unrolled condom.

“That’s your father’s,” she said flatly.

“I know,” I said gravely. “I found it in his drawer.”

There was a short silence. “What is it?” I persisted.

“It’s a machine part covering,” Mom said --- the first thing that popped into her head. Then, without further ado, she retreated, leaving me unchastised, relieved, and deeply puzzled.

My father was legendarily unmechanical. A Philips head screw driver was the most complex tool in the house. What possible machine could he be using this on?

Well. There was one machine.

My father, Ben Haas, was a professional writer. The only machine I had ever seen him use was the model 1923 Underwood manual typewriter on the desk in the bedroom. It was the tool of his trade and I had seen him take it apart to clean and repair it.

I walked around to the desk, holding the “machine part covering” in front of me. I tried stretching it, but there was obviously no possible way this was going to cover the entire typewriter. At best, I could stretch it over a few keys or let it flop limply over the carriage return leaver. Would Dad come back and find I had taken one of his “machine parts coverings?” Would he be mad and punish me for going through his bedside table drawer?

The only way out I could see was to show I was a good and dutiful son. I needed to show I had seen to covering his machine parts in his absence when he had obviously forgotten to do so himself.

But how did this rubber tube fit on a typewriter???!!!

I was beginning to panic.

Suddenly, I had an insight. It was the roller platen! I had seen Dad unscrew the ornate brass knobs on each end of the roller platen, remove it, clean it and replace it. That had to be it! I easily unscrewed the knobs and removed the platen.

With great difficulty, I managed to encase the whole length in the stretchy “machine parts covering,” and get the platen replaced. The knobs wouldn’t go back on, so I carefully laid the encased roller on top of the typewriter, setting the knobs to one side.

I closed Dad’s bedside drawer, taking the “machine part wrapper” with me--- it would make great play money along with the rest of the gold coin wrappers my brothers and I had saved.

Then, I left my parents’ bedroom, closing the door quietly, not mentioning my good deed to either Mom or Dad, figuring I would either be in for a scolding or praise soon enough.

I have no idea whether my father came home shortly thereafter and, finding a condom on his typewriter, took it as a not so subtle hint from my mother that he was working too much and should pay more attention to the home front. Maybe Mom went in the bedroom, and quietly removed the “machine part covering,” replacing the roller platen so Dad would never suspect his precious typewriter had been “violated.” Or, maybe, they found it and both had a hysterical laugh over it.

Neither of them ever said a single word about it to me.

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