When I was a kid, my candy store was called The Incredible Bulk. I didn’t know anything about comic books, but the sign above the door was big and green and just beckoned to kids. Inside was a hallway lined with bins with every kind of candy you could possibly think of. Gummy bears (and worms, and sharks, and peaches, and strawberries, and etc.), ropes of red licorice, and jaw breakers as big as your fist. There was a stairway to a loft above, which was cool but also kind of uninteresting because that’s where all of the sugar free candy was. My main destination was always the alcove in the back, three walls covered in bins stuffed with jelly beans. Specifically, Jelly Bellies.
Jelly Belly is a gourmet jelly bean company. Some people don’t understand. They think, “What could possibly be gourmet about a dumb jelly bean?” Well, we’re not talking about your cheap gas station jelly beans here, Sally. Instead of having five flavors (red, green, yellow, orange, and black licorice), Jelly Belly has fifty official flavors: fruity flavors, flavors based on different sodas (including Dr. Pepper and A&W Root Beer), ice cream flavors (sponsored by Coldstone), and a whole line specifically for sour candy lovers, each bean with its own distinctive look. There are many different types that are red, but the different hues help differentiate them. For instance, one can easily tell the difference between a Strawberry Cheesecake (whitish with red splotches), a Strawberry Daiquiri (mauve with occasional maroon spots), and a Strawberry Jam (translucent dark red with maroon splotches). And where a gourmet jelly bean exists, the existence of a jelly bean connoisseur is also possible.
When I was a kid, I was a jelly bean connoisseur. I’d go to The Incredible Bulk just for the pleasure of scooping different flavors of beans into a bag, picking the best kinds, and sometimes adding a bit from one of the bins that had different types already mixed together to try something new. When I got home, I’d dump everything out and sort it. Juicy Pear (the best kind!) would go in a pile next to Kiwi and Peach, Cotton Candy would be next to Green Apple and Very Cherry (the kinds that were good, but not my favorite), and Buttered Popcorn, Watermelon, and Toasted Marshmallow would be grouped in the same general vicinity, to await their doom (as my least favorites, they were most often given to my brothers).
These delicious treasures were meant to be hoarded, enjoyed, and savored individually. If I shared my jelly beans with someone in high school, it was a sure way to tell that I valued their friendship. It was also a good test to see if I would offer my prized jelly beans a second time: once, after offering some to a friend, I watched, gasping in horror, as he scooped up a handful and dumped all of them in his mouth at once.
I still like them, but I can’t sit around and chomp on Jelly Bellies anymore. I can eat about twelve before I start thinking about a good place to hide them so that my stash will stay intact until I want to enjoy them another time. I still get that giggly feeling when I sit down to grab a handful out of the bag and push them into piles: “awesome,” “okay,” and “bleh,” and I still want to cackle like a super villain when I return them to their secret hiding place. Eating Jelly Bellies makes me feel just like a kid again, like I’m standing back in The Incredible Bulk trying to decide just how many Blueberry to scoop into my bag and whether I should chance getting any from the assorted bag just to avoid the Chocolate Pudding ones.
Even if you’re an adult, it’s nice to feel like you’re a kid in a candy store every once in a while.
And if my husband is reading this, here’s a special message for you: Don’t even bother looking; you’ll never find them.