Alice in Candyland
by Sharon Waller Knutson

King trumps Queen, my mother’s
younger brother, Uncle Jack
says as he teaches me to play poker.
But I prefer to watch his wife,
Aunt Alice, the woman
I want to be, as she removes
her wool coat after working
all week as the city treasurer.

She kicks off her snow boots
and heads for the kitchen
and I follow. I’m making taffy,
divinity and chocolate fudge
for the holidays. Want to help?
she asks me. I don’t know how,
I say. Don’t worry. I’ll teach you.

I slide on the icy sidewalk
separating our houses on Saturday.
Like a warm sweater, Alice’s big body
surrounds mine as she shows me
how to stir the sugar so it doesn’t
burn on the bottom of the saucepan.

As her strong hands hold mine
while we whip the egg whites to stiff
peaks, I feel the strength to stand
up to the bullies who call me Skinny
Stick and when we pull the taffy,
I feel the stamina to walk two miles
to school as the snow freezes into ice.

The misery of being a thirteen-year-old
feminist female in the fifties in a small town
melts like the sweet candy in my mouth
as we stand in the warm kitchen
forming a bond that can’t be broken
by distance, divorce or death, something
we didn’t know that snowy Saturday
when I learned to make candy with my aunt.

PHOTO: Christmas fudge by Dolphy.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem is part of a collection of poems, The Leading Ladies in My Life, forthcoming in 2023, about my female relatives and how they played a part in who I am today. I was blessed to have an extended family that helped me survive the 1950s in a small town where a woman’s place was in the home. My paternal grandmother and my Aunt Alice were the women I most admired because they were independent, strong females who had careers, children, and husbands. I always wanted to leave town and make a living as a published writer, something I achieved thanks to the examples of Aunt Alice and Grandma Anna.

Knutson copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sharon Waller Knutson is a retired journalist who lives in Arizona. She has published eight poetry books including My Grandmother Smokes Chesterfields (Flutter Press 2014), What the Clairvoyant Doesn’t Say  and Trials & Tribulations of Sports Bob (both Kelsay Books 2021) and Survivors, Saints and Sinners and Kiddos & Mamas Do the Darndest Things (both Cyberwit 2022). Her work has also appeared in Discretionary Love, Impspired, GAS Poetry, Art and Music, The Rye Whiskey Review, Black Coffee Review, Terror House Review, Trouvaille Review, ONE ART, Mad Swirl, The Drabble, Gleam, Spillwords, Muddy River Review, Verse-Virtual, Your Daily Poem, Red Eft Review, and The Five-Two.