The week before my ninth birthday, my mother came home from work with a 

bag full of plastic swans to use as candy cups, as favors, for the ten girls who were

coming to my birthday party. Buying a decorative container for the various candies was always number one on her list of preparing for my party. My focus, of course, was more on the 

candies that would fill the containers. I seem to recall one parent asking her why she didn’t just fill a small cup with candies like most of the others did. My Mom, who usually was one for the road of least effort, just answered, “I like putting the candies in something the girls can take home with them and keep.” And  although I have forgotten what some of the containers were, the swans have stayed with me and I still have one.

On the morning of my party, I happily filled the open back of each swan with chocolate kisses, spice drops, and my favorites, licorice All-Sorts, a wonderful, flavorful assortment of licorice flavored bits imported from England. I especially loved the All-Sorts squares of pink and white fondant layered with thin slices of licorice. Positively decadent, that rush of sugar overlaying the pungent flavor of the licorice. I would hold each piece in my mouth until the fondant separated from the licorice and then mash that little square with my teeth to send a final release of heavenly surge of licorice to my taste buds.

I recall that the party was a wonderful time of games, presents, chatter, cake, ice cream, and trading chocolates for licorice. After my friends went home, I checked to see if any guest had left her swan. I rescued the licorice from the those and filled refilled them with more chocolate to take to my forgetful friends at school. 

There were several empty swans from the pack and I took them to my room, where they swam about in my “treasure” drawer. Year after year they made it into my moving boxes—home to first apartment. Apartment to house with four good friends. My first married home, our second, this third one. After all those moves, only one swan remains. Last year, on my 73rd birthday, I lifted that little plastic creature out of my trinket box and put her on my dresser. 

Not long ago I learned that the use of a bonbonniere , an ornamental candy holder was a feature (and still is for many) at Italian weddings. I wish I could ask my Mom if that custom was her inspiration for searching out  decorative candy holders for my parties. I wish I had not succumbed to the pressure of putting things in  paper or plastic “goodie bags” for my own daughter and her invitees. 

Over the years, I’ve become allergic to those wonderful licorice candies, but looking at my little plastic swan brings back sweet memories–both the taste of licorice, and the joy of celebrating my special day with friends. 

This year I plan to fill my swan with candies that my daughter likes and pass the swan on to her, on her birthday and share stories about her grandma and birthday parties from both of our childhoods so the swan can swim with her memories as well—and I guess that’s the best part of the bonbonniere, and any sweet memory—passing it on.

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage. Her poems, articles, essays, and short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Yellow Mama, Ovunque Siamo, The Ekphrastic Review, anti-heroin chic, Haunted Waters Press, Verse Visual, Silver Birch, Verse Virtual, Crimeucopia, Bould Anthology, and others. She has been a Tupelo Press 30/30 author, and a Gilbert Chappell Fellow. She is a 2021 Pushcart nominee and received Best of Micro Fiction in 2021 from Haunted Waters.