This story is for my friend. We met in kindergarten and he would have been 51 today. Besides being a fabulous father to his son and an amazing person, he is the only human I know who ever beat one of my mom’s eating records.
That rainy summer of taste tests and eating challenges in Maine had included a diabolical game called “How Many Hershey kisses can you stuff in your mouth?” It sounds easy, but just wait for the chocolate to start melting and globbing up in the back of your throat. Choking was a very real danger, “Don’t worry!” Mama would encourage, “I am a registered nurse! Try for sixteen!”
It was some dreary season in Rochester and the boredom couldn’t be undone even in the office of the literary arts magazine of our high school. Randomness was the norm for us but even so, this day was dragging. My older sister mentioned the Hershey Kiss contest.
“Wait! I have some free mods*! I will get some Kisses at the drugstore!” True to his word, Stevie was off and back before his free mods were over. He seated himself in the chair someone had dragged up from the curb and then covered with silver contact paper.
“Brzustowicz!” my friend commanded, “Unwrap those Kisses! I have a record to break.”
My sister was worried, “It is really hard. I stopped at 16. I couldn’t get any more in my mouth without gagging.”
He stared us both down, and used our mother’s logic on us, “What? You two afraid? You are both doctors’ daughters! Come on! Get unwrapping!”
My sister and I looked at each other and unwrapped. The office started filling up with people who wanted to see the challenge. I got worried, what if he really started gagging? I knew my sister was thinking the same thing as I saw her mouthing first aid instructions.
Stevie urged us on, “Come on, I have class at 2:06! Let’s start!”
So, we began. The office wasn’t all that big, maybe the size of a freight elevator. There were about eight spectators when we started placing the Hersey Kisses back near Stevie’s molars. He was all business, eyes focused, little nods of his head to encourage us to keep placing the Kisses in his mouth. We took turns inserting the chocolates in his mouth. We counted out loud as we placed. The room counted with us. Stevie stayed focused, his eyes going past the paper maché bust of George Washington that sat on top of a gray metal filing cabinet.
He motioned for more. Chocolate drool started to form at the corners of his mouth. At the twenty-second Kiss a tremendous hawking noise came out of him, but he kept on. Twenty-two had been my mother’s record. Stevie was like Secretariat in the backstretch of the Belmont Stakes, half a track ahead of the competition.
My sister mouthed first aid procedures for choking (The first instruction should have been, “Do not place more chocolate in the choking victims’ mouth…”)
There were now about twelve spectators chanting, “25…….26…..27…..” Stevie’s eyes said it all, “Just one more!”
Now the extraction. This was possibly the most horrid part of the whole contest: watching as chocolate goo and saliva came out of an overstretched mouth and into a plastic bag.
“Twenty-eight!” Stevie rejoiced, “THAT is a record that will last!”
And it has.
*Our school day was broken up into eighteen minute increments. A typical class was three mods long. A large group presentation was two mods, and science labs were four mods.