Trouble in Candy Land: The Rise and Fall of the Heath Bar

I’ve been proven wrong again and I’m starting to doubt my own inarguable authority on popular culture topics. I had read somewhere that Heath bars were made by a little tiny candy company in Ohio, that they only made Heath bars, and they resisted being bought out by the big candy companies. I was 99.9 percent sure that the valiant Heath bar was the last family-made candy bar in America. It sounds right, doesn’t it?

But just like I was proven wrong about John Howard Griffin dying of skin cancer after writing Black Like Me and Rip Torn being dead, I guess I had been duped by another urban legend.

It turns out that the Heath bar is made by Hershey. It’s just another Skor bar in the big corporate world of candy.

I bought a Heath bar the other day and it didn’t taste as good as I remembered it. It may have to do with the fact that you can now find Heath bars almost every time you look at the candy section of the grocery checkout. It didn’t used to be that way.

I always thought of the Heath bar as the Waldo of the candy world. The ever elusive candy bar always kept you wondering where it was. It would appear at the grocery checkout line one day, spend a few minutes having sex with your mouth and then whisper, “I have to go away for a little while. You’ll be OK. Shsssshhh. . .”

And then you wouldn’t see it for five, six months.

I don’t know why this was. I doubt that the candy bar industry was savvy enough to make the Heath bar hard to get. That may have worked with Ninja Turtles and Beanie Babies but I don’t think it works for things you eat. I mean, they want you to find it, don’t they? So you can buy it and eat it.

I lived by the rule that if I saw a Heath bar at the checkout, I would buy it, quick while I could. No matter that I was trying to lose weight, or I had just come from lunch in which I had a flourless chocolate cake and the mere thought of a candy bar made my face break out.  Buy it while you can was my rule.

I used to make a cheesecake with caramel sauce on top and rimmed with broken up Heath bars. I once bought a six pack of Heath bars for that, but ate 5 1/2 of them before I could get find the 10-inch cheesecake pan.

To sum up, I loved Heath bars.

For me, they’ve always been a forbidden fruit (the cocoa bean and sugar cane are fruits, right?) because of what happened with our neighbor’s granddaughter when I was about 8. We lived next door to some old people who were all around the same age. I was never 100 percent sure if some of them were married to each other or if they were just a group of brothers and sisters, or if they were running some kind of elderly commune over there. They were old and that’s all that mattered to me. Although looking back, they could have been in their late 40s. 

Every so often, a daughter and granddaughter would visit them and my neighborhood girlfriends and I would be summoned. Please could you nice girls play with Sherry, the granddaughter, who although is three years younger than you, would rather hang with you than sit around on the plastic covered couch and eat biscotti with the old people. Of course they didn’t say it that way. They had no idea those plastic covers on the furniture were offensive to little children.

It was kind of like our first babysitting job. We included Sherry in our crabapple fights, playing school/store/library or building things out of the furniture boxes from Stewart Furniture that we would drag through town to a back yard. We practiced not being condescending. We probably didn’t do a very good job of it.

In addition to being relatively a baby, Sherry had a stutter and she was diabetic. We didn’t mind the stutter. And we had no idea what a diabetic was. Until one day we were playing Barbies on my front porch and one of the old people from from next door came over and said, “Sherry has to come home to get her insulin shot now.” 

Holy crap - this girl was downright exotic. She got medical things done to her. We were seriously impressed.

We walked over to the house with her and waited on the front porch steps (never on the wicker!) while Sherry went in. We were in awe of her stoicism.

The screen door had barely slammed when one of the old people came scurrying out and handed each of us a Heath bar.

“Eat these fast before Sherry comes back out,” the old person said. She was as surreptitious as anyone had ever been in our eight-year lives. We felt like spies.

We ripped open those wrappers and wolfed down our Heath bars. We had no idea how long it took to get an insulin shot but we weren’t taking any chances. The possibility that Sherry might come out and see these older girls eating Heath bars when she couldn’t have any, because we had taken the time to savor the beautiful combination of toffee and chocolate, seemed like the worst possible thing to happen in the world ever. I’m sure I would have never gotten over the guilt.

Shoving half of a Heath bar in your mouth and devouring it before it even has a chance to touch your taste buds is no way to eat a candy bar - any candy bar - and certainly not the best candy bar on earth. And that’s what we thought of them. Maybe it was the quality of the chocolate. Maybe it was the fact that the toffee stuck to your teeth, so you could enjoy it for a good 15 minutes after you had swallowed. But more likely it was the taboo that would forever surround the Heath bar. The fact that I had to sneak that one - was ordered to sneak it by an old person, no less - made it just so good.

But after almost 50 years, that thrill was bound to wear off. Especially combined with some new and improved artificial ingredients. And you can find them everywhere you look now.

Hershey is taking the fun out of everything, even eating its own candy bars.

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