(This was written for the Omnivore blog at Creative Loafing’s website.)
Trouble with my Mac laptop required that I make a trip to the Apple store at Lenox Square last night. I grew up shopping at Lenox — I think my mother had her own parking space — but I’ve avoided the place like the plague for years. I’d rather wear ill-fitting, out-of-fashion clothes purchased online than throw myself into the black hole of frantic consumerism called Lenox Square.
But I did feel a major wave of nostalgia as I passed the Godiva Chocolatier shop last night. My mother was a fanatical lover of the stuff and it was often stacked on the sideboard of the dining room at Christmas. At that time of the year, she bought mainly pieces filled with liqueurs.
Godiva was then (and still is) instantly recognizable by its gold box. I recall that during my freshman year of college, Mama sent me a big box as the holidays descended. I doubt she would have approved that it became the centerpiece of a psychedelic session with a few friends. We ate the whole box in a few hours, each piece producing synesthetic waves of pleasure.
At that time, Godiva was considered the best chocolate available. But it was also during my freshman year that the candy began to lose its eclat for me. After my friends and I tripped on it, my roommate noticed the empty box.
“You like that stuff?” he asked me.
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
“I can get you all you want,” he said, as if he were a drug dealer.
“How much?” I asked.
“Free,” he said.
I asked him how he would manage that.
“My father is an executive at Campbell Soups,” he said.
“Yeah? And? What’s that got to do with Godiva?” I asked.
“Campbell owns Godiva,” he explained.
I was shocked. The same people who make the watery, weakly flavored soups made the world’s best chocolate! They bought it from the Belgian company that had been selling it since 1926. (And Campbell sold it to a Turkish company a few years ago.)
I have no idea if Campbell changed anything other than the marketing of Godiva. But after learning of the change, every time I bit into a piece of Godiva, I tasted notes of pink tomato soup. It was similar to the way I came to smell Jungle Gardenia perfume every time I smell Downy Fabric Softener. I used to make out with a high school girl friend in her parents’ laundry room. The two smells are forever associated.
I decided not to tell my mother about the Campbellization of Godiva. For all I know she already knew. In any case, it became a Thing You Just Don’t Discuss and I always tried to give her the gold boxes on special occasions. A few times, I gave her much better artisan chocolates like those made here by Maison Robert, but they clearly never excited her as much as Godiva. So, I stuck to it. It was a lesson in the way taste depends on memory.
My mother had a stroke that left her unable to read, write, talk or walk. She lived about 15 years in this condition. I took her a box of Godiva near the end of her life and her eyes lit up. My mother and I had a difficult relationship throughout my life, to say the least. I was literally afraid of her, but we had finally come to talk regularly a few years before her stroke.
When I handed her this last box of Godiva, she loosened the gold cord and removed the lid. Instead of taking the first piece for herself, she held the box out to me. I took a piece, as did she. Our gaze locked as the sweet chocolate melted and countless good memories rolled over me.