In late December 2015, about a week before Rocky’s 2nd birthday, my mom decided she wanted to take us to the Jelly Belly Factory. It was a cold, drizzly day in the Bay Area and a jelly bean factory seemed like the perfect place to spend an afternoon. I climbed in the back seat of my parents’ car, squeezed myself between Rhône and Rocky’s car seats and we began the journey to Fairfield from Sonoma. We traveled along the pretty, vine-lined Highway 12 and about a half an hour later, we reached 1 Jelly Belly Lane.
As we drove up, we were greeted by a huge, inflatable red jelly bean man resting on his rump right in front of the factory. He wore a white cap and his hands were on his hips. Behind him was a large, white, rectangular two-story building painted peach in portions with grids of glistening mirrored windows. We all wondered what we would see inside the factory. Except for my dad. He decided to drive to Carl’s Jr. and eat a cheeseburger instead and then wait for us in the car.
That was a smart move on his part because I don’t think he would have enjoyed the chaos we encountered. There were hundreds of people inside, screaming kids everywhere, flashing lights and dinging sounds coming from the mini arcade that made a Vegas casino seem low-key, and there was a long and intimidating line to get into the factory. Mom volunteered to wait in the line to buy tickets while the boys and I explored the space. It was really cold out, so we had on our thick winter coats. The heat was cranked up inside and the sheer amount of people probably upped the temperature a couple more degrees. We soon started sweating. The boys ran from area to area, checking out a motorcycle with a jelly bean-shaped sidecar, ogling jelly bean sculptures suspended from the ceiling, and “playing” every single video game in the arcade without putting a single coin in. (They were still young enough to enjoy just pushing buttons and watching game previews!)
Every so often we’d check in with Mom. She patiently waited in line for about an hour as we darted back and forth, occasionally popping outside to visit the nondescript picnic area where oodles of families with jelly bean dreams had lunched and snacked that day.
We finally got our tickets for the factory tour. We climbed a wide set of stairs and entered an area full of impressive jelly bean mosaics. Elvis? Check. The Statue of Liberty? Check. Napoleon? Eh oui. My eyes were drawn to the floor where they feasted on some 80s-style black carpet with large, colorful jelly beans, candy corns, polka dots and random strands of confetti incorporated into the design. I was so mesmerized, I almost missed Rocky trying – and thanks to me, failing – to lick the face of a huge grizzly bear made out of jelly beans.
We were ushered down a hallway and handed paper hats to wear during the tour. These were mandatory, we were told. Rocky’s hat didn’t fit well over his “man bun” and believe me, I tried a bunch of different ways to keep that flimsy paper thing on his head but it was NOT working. Before the tour began, we snapped a photo with another anthropomorphic jelly bean in front of a green screen and then we were off.
The tour itself was fine. When I look back now, what I remember most is my mom carrying a bundle of coats with one arm and snuggling either Rhone or Rocky with the other one as we stopped to hear stories about the joys of jelly bean-making. We tasted a few treats along the way and saw a jelly bean dude in a vest and leather chaps riding a piece of factory equipment like it was a bucking bronco. That was fun. What really sticks out to me is what happened at the end of the tour. Before we descended the big stairs to exit, the photo people were there with our images displayed on a wall. We found ours and the photographer, a heavyset guy with bifocals and a white beard, approached, saying to Mom, “That’s a really nice picture of you all.” She replied, “You know what? I think I’ll get it.” I saw the price, which I believed was outrageous for an 8×10 photo, and thought, “No, Mom!” But she was already off to the cash register, chatting with the guy and making his job more enjoyable as she asked him questions about photography and himself. She always showed a genuine interest in people and had a warmth about her that made others feel good when they were in her presence. The photographer slid two 8×10 photos into separate cardboard frames which were bright red and had information about the Jelly Belly Factory printed on the back. “There you go!” he said cheerfully and handed them over.
I studied the image and decided this wasn’t my favorite picture of myself because my eyes were squinting a little as if I was about to blink. But I enjoyed looking at everyone else and I appreciated the gift from Mom commemorating our day. I had no idea how much I would come to love this photo and that I would one day consider it one of my most cherished items. When we moved to Paris, we only came with our suitcases, and guess what fit perfectly inside mine? The Jelly Belly photo. The day we moved into our furnished apartment, one of the only things we had on hand to decorate it and make it our own was that photo. It has stood on the boys’ nightstand ever since and we look at it every single night before bed. And now that Mom is gone it has more meaning than ever. It reminds me of that day, of course, and the moments we shared but also who she was and how she loved us. And sometimes all I want to do is go back to that time when she wasn’t sick and we had no clue she would be; to the time of hope and possibility and carefree fun and rainbow-colored jelly beans.
This Easter, while in confinement, I felt like I wanted to do something special for Rhône and Rocky – something that might take our minds off the fact that we are in our small Paris apartment 23 hours a day instead of outside smelling flowers, running free and soaking up the sunshine on a warm spring day. Just before Easter I started looking up things to do at home, crafts to make, etc. And then I came across a post about magic jelly beans. This was sounding good. Essentially you put chocolate pudding (or mousse au chocolat if you live in France) into a small pot or jar mixed with crushed Oreos. You drop in a jelly bean, and cover it with more “soil.” At bedtime the kids blow their jelly bean a kiss and make a wish that it will grow into something nice. On Easter morning they’ll find a lollipop in the soil. Cute, right?
I loved the idea but I needed to find jelly beans. I knew that one grocery store in my neighborhood carried jelly beans and they just so happened to be Jelly Belly jelly beans, but they were a special kind called BeanBoozled – meaning there are some jelly beans with yummy flavors like chocolate and watermelon and identical jelly beans with disgusting flavor profiles like dog food and snot! I wasn’t so sure about that for Easter. A couple days before the big day, I filled out my attestation (the signed and dated form allowing me to go outside and shop) and decided to see what kinds of treats I could find. While outside, I ran into my friend Tanya who was walking her dog Lucy. We stood a safe distance apart and discussed our Easter plans. I mentioned the BeanBoozled jelly beans and she said, “Well it sounds like your boys would really enjoy those.” She was right. I walked to the store immediately and bought them, along with a small bag of regular-flavored Jelly Bellies I found hanging on a rack right next to them.
And so we had a Jelly Belly Easter, starting with lollipops that had sprouted from magic jelly beans and ending with an indoor egg hunt, using two plastic Easter eggs and any other small, round toy containers we could find and fill with jelly beans (the regular flavors, not the BeanBoozled ones). After the hunt, Rhône and Rocky clutched their beans preciously, planning which ones to eat and which ones to trade with each other later. As they nibbled on each jelly bean and exclaimed what flavor it was, I reveled in the expressions of joy and wonder on their faces. I didn’t have a desire to ask, “Remember the day we went to the Jelly Belly Factory?” We’ve talked about that day many times before. Rather I hoped they’d experience flavor memories. They can’t possibly recall all the times my mom loved on them, but I believe they can be reminded of her sweetness in this tangential way; of how she loved to celebrate special days and people and above all, the way they felt when they were around her. She probably didn’t know this at the time, but with each jelly bean she fed them, Mom was planting seeds of love – the fruits of which are everlasting.