Chunky in Fury

This story first appeared as a Candygram on Jason Santa Maria’s site on October 11, 2011.

It’s January of 1979 and we’re sitting inside the Plymouth Fury outside an AM/PM Mini Market in North Philadelphia.

My father’s loyalty to Chrysler automobiles may be the defining commitment of his life. The blue Fury had replaced the black Valiant, which was even bigger. In three years it will be replaced by a Volaré station wagon, perhaps a nod to the suburban family life he continually promised my mother. The Volaré will be the first car he doesn’t allow himself to smoke in.

It’s snowing outside. East coast post-Christmas snow that only starts after the sun has gone down at 3 in the afternoon. My father hasn’t worked since winter shut down most of the construction jobs in the city and is rummaging through the glove compartment for any change he can add to the few crumpled dollars in his hand. I think of offering him the 50¢ in my pocket and then decide against it.

“Be right back.”

I’m watching the snow fall in front of the streetlights overhead wondering if it’ll snow enough to shut down school tomorrow. A man tries to wipe the windshield with a dirty copy of today’s Bulletin and I instinctively reach for the door lock. It’s 1979 and we are still afraid of black people.

My father walks out of the mini-market and starts to pump gas. It doesn’t take long to pump $3 worth of gas. He gets in the car and I sit up. He reaches into his pocket, pulls out a Chunky, and tosses it at me. He reaches over and tussles my hair. I unwrap the Chunky and take a bite out of it, offering him a bite as well, which he declines with a wave of his hand.

He’s about to start the car when I ask, “Why did you pick me up from school today?”

Now, I don’t know how many of you have ever had a Chunky. It’s a solid brick of chocolate. A funny polygonal brick. Apparently, it was originally intended to be a pyramid, but the packaging was so problematic that the inventor just lopped the top of the pyramid right off. There’s raisins and nuts in there, but they’re almost a rounding error. You do not break pieces off a Chunky. You either take giant bites out of it, putting your teeth at risk, or you shove the entire thing in your mouth, a contest between melting and choking.

So when I ask my father, with a mouth full of chocolate, why he’d picked me up at school that day, which, by the way, is the longest thing I’ve said to him since Christmas, I imagine it sounds more like, “Ididjoopickepfumskultday?”

He pulls the keys out of the ignition and sits back. We sit in silence for a few minutes staring at the snow falling outside. A SEPTA train crosses the overpass in front of us. He leans over, grabs the Chunky out of my hand and takes a bite, leaving me the last one.

“Your grandfather called this morning.”

My mouth is full of chocolate.

“Your grandmother is gone.”