The Warm Smell of Heaven

Riding in the back seat of a car driven by my aunt and uncle, all I could think is what every parent dreads: Are we there yet?  Only, I didn't ask. I knew we weren't there yet because the car was still moving down the same highway it had been going down for the last five hours. Years later, driving my own car, I found that Pennsylvania takes a long time to drive through, no matter which way you're going.

It was a horrible ride in that back seat. The coal mines in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre gave off a horrendous, rotten smell; a smell so bad that it stuck to your nose hairs for hours after. The highway in Scranton is always, always under construction or so rough that it seems like your car will never live through the experience of such deep potholes...

After Wilkes-Barre, the view out the window becomes rather boring. It's flat and sparsely populated, so even for a child that liked to observe how other people live from the back seat of a car, I was bored. I couldn't sleep because of the rough ride, and now had nothing to look at. Are we there yet? Only, I had no idea where there was. I had an idea that I was very miserable though.

Then, my aunt and uncle perked up in the front seat. They sat up straighter and started talking in low voices. I sat up and listened hard, but didn't hear, and what I did hear, I didn't understand. I looked out the window again and could see more farms and houses, and a ways up ahead of us, the hint of more dwellings.  Nope, we weren't there yet.

I sat back and started thinking, rethinking about how I thought Aunt Willy was my favorite aunt. She lived so far away that I hardly ever saw her, yet she was always my favorite. Oh, but this long, tortuous car ride was starting to whittle away at all the good feelings I'd always had for Aunt Willy. I was tired of sitting in that car, it wouldn't be too much longer before I peed my pants, and I was hungry. I was getting hungrier by the minute, too.

And, I was even hungrier the next minute. Sniff.  Sniff-sniff. Oh, that smells like the brownies Aunt Willy made the other night. Another long inhale confirmed it. She was holding out on me!  She had brownies up there in the front seat and she wasn't sharing!  I straddled the hump and pulled myself forward with the back of the front seat and popped my head between my aunt and uncle. I almost reached my hand out in a silent demand, but didn't.  There were no brownies! 

How can that be? Oh, the smell of chocolate was stronger, and it grew stronger by the minute. It now smelled like the richest cup of hot chocolate ever, and my mouth was watering. And, there it was. A billboard-sized sign that looked just like my favorite candy bar: HERSHEY.

We must be close to a very, very big candy store. I had no idea that things were "made" or "manufactured" or came from anywhere but the corner store. It didn't come together in my head. Not yet.

The car finally stopped, and when the doors opened to let us all out, the delicious smell of chocolate was overpowering. Oh, so sweet, so rich, so tasteful - and you could taste it. The smell was so thick in the air that you could almost touch it. We were there.  I still don't know where there was, but it wouldn't be long now.

It felt like a long walk from the gate to the door that we were supposed to go through. Then, when my uncle pulled open that door to let us all in, I stopped in my tracks.  I saw huge. There were huge things in there, all steel, all loud and moving, and I was terrified. My aunt grabbed my hand and led me up steel stairs with little holes in them. You could see through the stairs to what was below, and that concrete floor looked a long way down.

At the top of the stairs was a steel cat-walk, though I didn't know what it was called at the time. Just a steel mesh that didn't look strong enough to be holding us up. We walked on, our steps clanging above the huge sounds of all the huge things moving below.

Finally, I looked up when my aunt and uncle stopped walking. And there was this huge, huge vat of what looked like mud that the huge machines were moving back and forth in, making little waves in the mud. My aunt leaned down to my ear to yell, "They are making chocolate!" Mud is chocolate? But, I looked again, I smelled the air again, and it clicked. I understood now.  This was heaven for kids! I moved fast toward the rail of the cat-walk, and if my aunt hadn't had a hold of my hand, I would've jumped right into that gigantic vat of heaven.

Years later, I took my son to Hershey, PA too. You could still smell the chocolate driving into the city. But, touring the factory itself was no longer allowed. They made a ride of sorts that took you through large photos of the factory and very small simulations of how Hershey Kisses are made. It wasn't the same.

But, I'll never forget that delicious, warm smell of chocolate...


  1. Theresa, I can almost smell the chocolate, although I do not like Hershey bars! I remember a similar visit to Cadburys near Birmingham UK. The machinery was fine but the samples at the end were a lot better.
    P.S. I have just bought some (Cadbury Chocolate) at the 7-11, my one little indulgence to my Western upbringing.

  2. They say working in a place like that will put you off chocolate for life. I don't know how true it is, but I'd like to test the theory.

  3. Hi Mike. I'm the same - chocolate isn't chocolate unless it's Hershey's. I try to avoid that indulgence as much as possible too. It's tough!

    Hi A. You bet. My first full-time job was working in Frito-Lay on the potato chip line. I still won't eat Lays! Now, Fritos on the other hand, came out of the deep fryer and had to cool on this spiral conveyor belt. I used to grab handfuls of that stuff on my way by, it was so great. The salt on Fritos is sprayed on just before it goes into the bag, so it was warm, fresh, unsalted corn. The oils is thick in the air then, and settles on the floor. I had to buy a new pair of shoes every month. And, my jeans would get so hard that they would crack and split. Washing doesn't take that stuff out.