Tootsie Roll

As a child, I received a lot of Tootsie Rolls at Halloween, trick and treating. They were bought in bulk so parents could hand out several. Though I liked the Tootsie Pop the best. Per parents permission, I passed Tootsie Pops out to kindergarten students this year and was surprised how much they loved them. An old product continues to provide new flavor and excitement. Growing up in the 1950’s, Tootsie Roll sponsored children’s programs while many of us remember their commercials. Manufactured in New York in 1896 by Leo Hirshfield, the now Chicago-based company has grown to become one of the country’s largest candy companies. In 1931, Sweets Corp. which owned Tootsie Roll, extended the line with the Tootsie Pop, a Tootsie Roll center coated with a hard-candy shell on a lollipop stick. The company struggled during the Great Depression in New York. However, finally came to Chicago.

According to Dining Chicago, in 1966, Sweets Corp. changed its name to Tootsie Roll Industries and opened the Chicago plant at 7401 S. Cicero Ave. that is now its headquarters. Melvin Gordon, CEO for several decades and who passed away in 2015 at 95 believed in hiring Chicagoan’s and kept the headquarters here for that reason. I knew several who worked for the company that offered great benefits. His wife worked by side with him, married for 65 years and was CEO.

The company also operates factories in four other states, plus Mexico and Canada. The manufacturer claims to produce more than 64 million Tootsie Rolls. Tootsie brands include: Tootsie Roll, Tootsie Pop, Charms Blow Pop, Mason Dots, Andes, Sugar Daddy, Charleston Chew, Dubble Bubble, Razzles, Caramel Apple Pop, Junior Mints, Cella’s Chocolate-Covered Cherries, and Nik-L-Nip.

The Sucker Tree

My grandfather’s whitewashed farmhouse was located in small town, central Illinois framed by an ever-changing horizon and guarded by cornstalks.  Each had grown tall with gangling arms, restive and ready to capture their trespassers, twisting their leafy fingers round and round, threatening to arrest me. I was only six years old then.

I quickly made my way inside the chipped picket fence, protected from the grasp of the tawny soldiers.

The screen door creaked and cracked like the bones of an elder, opening and shutting again as Granddad reached for me with outstretched arms of endearment.

Behind the thick panes of his spectacles, his narrow eyes glistened with delight.  His face flushed with excitement, the color of the early autumn foliage that vividly shaded his home that day.

“I have another surprise for you, little one,” he spoke in a whisper.

Of course, I was expecting this and returned his words with a huge grin.  Once again, Granddad had not let me down for my visits were always greeted with something truly wonderful, a phenomena for the entire world to see but, unfortunately, allowed for Granddad and my eyes only!

He slowly took a seat in his polished, Hitchcock rocker and I piled into his lap, anxious to listen.

“Out back, only a few feet away from the house, my child, something very special is happening,” he said.

“What is it, Granddad?”  I responded, eyes wide with childhood curiosity.

He paused for a moment to gather his thought, clearing his aged vocal cords as well.

“A tree is just starting to bloom!”

……….Granddad had topped himself with amazing stories this time!  I wondered if his mind had taken a wrong turn somewhere, the grownups called it senility, I think.  Anyway, I was always considered bright for my years and knew better to believe that trees did not prosper during this particular season!  Leaves transformed from green to brown, then withered and fell to the ground to be either raked away or covered with blankets of snow at the onset of winter weather.  It didn’t take experience in years to attain that knowledge so what was this man fabricating now?

I was extremely disappointed, to say the least.

“Granddad, trees don’t bloom in autumn!”  I said in defiance.

“This one does,” he answered confidently.

Granddad had never lied to me in the past.  Did he really know something that the rest of Illinois and I had not encountered.  It was certainly possible.  In fact anything was possible.

“What kind of tree is it?”  I asked, attempting to pacify Granddad, giving him the benefit of the doubt.

“A sucker tree!”  he proudly announced.  “When all the other trees and shrubs shed their leafy dress, this tiny tree begins to thrive with lollipops of rainbow colors.  One by one, they pop out like magic with stems and all, dangling from the branches.  When each sucker is ripe and just the right size, they can be picked and eaten.”

As Granddad continued to go on and on, I was mesmerized by his delightful description.  This was too good…..just too good to be true!  However, once again, Granddad had me right where he wanted me.

“Are the suckers ripe now?”  I asked, nearly jumping out of his lap.

“Well, let’s find out,” he suggested as we climbed out of the rocker and quickly headed to the backyard.

He gestured for me to go first and my impatience caused me to slide down the back steps, my bottom sore and surely splintered right through my pants!

I didn’t care because, only a few inches from me, a miracle really was occurring right before my startling eyes.

A young tree, only a foot or two taller than myself, caught my undivided attention.  Its’ trunk looked like any other and it was naked of leaves but, lo and behold, lollipops, approximately four inches round, hung delicately on their stems from each branch.  There were five or six already in bloom and pink, blue, yellow, and green colors swirled in their centers.  Each childhood delicacy gently swayed to the tunes of the afternoon breeze.

“Can I pick one?”  I uttered in a small voice.

This was a sight that would be locked in my memory for all time.

“Why, of course,” he smiled.  “Two, if you like”

My mouth watered as I let my tongue whirl around on the colors, blending the pinks into the blues, creating my own masterpiece and savoring its’ flavor while the sucker shrunk in size, eventually disappearing into my belly.

I hugged Granddad tightly, thanking him for letting me share this fascinating September event.

The following year in early autumn, Granddad had passed to another land and my heart ached for his return that could never be.  I would miss him for many years to come.

After his funeral, I removed myself from the crowd and took a seat on those familiar back steps to gaze on nature’s evolution.  Each tree had changed color and their leaves began to drop to their demise, almost like what had happened to my Granddad.

I then focused on the sucker tree.  Its’ barren branches seemed to stretch wearily toward the sky as if asking God to return my Granddad.  Not one lollipop adorned its’ arms.  The tree was lost without him for only Granddad knew the secret ingredients that could provide the tree with eternal like.  The sucker tree had become a fabric of memory along with my brilliant Granddad sitting beside it.