There is a thing that embodies Fall as a child for me, and it's not candy corn, although candy corn runs a close second.
I can say with reasonable certainty that everyone who might read this blog was in grade school at some point, and furthermore, you likely had some sort of Fall Carnival or Field Day or some other outdoor activity, usually an all-day thing, where you could run, jump, scream, and in general just be a kid. And of course being a kid, you could eat all sorts of things that were bad for you. Hotdogs with lots of garnish, hamburgers, funnel cakes perhaps, and of course caramel corn, and you'd wash it all down with tons and tons of Coke with ice from little red and white wax-paper Coke cups.
For me there is one item that stands well clear of all the others that you and I enjoyed at Field Day, and that's a candy apple. Long the staple food of the fairground, the exquisite red of a candy apple with it's pale popsicle stick held high and proud sums up, for me, the very essence of being a kid in the Fall. You know the feeling--free from school for a day, the air pleasantly crisp, the sun high in the sky, Hallo'een coming, the promise of Thanksgiving break in your eyes and Christmas lurking on the horizon, and you've spent the day racing around in your shorts or blue jeans. You'd be dirty, sweatily exuberant, kicking balls and knocking down stacks of cans and playing Tug-O-War, watching that ribbon move ever so slowly back and forth over the line. And you'd eat, everything you possibly could, gorging yourself on popcorn balls and cotton candy and at some point, some magical moment, your eye would be caught and held fast by that tray of Red Delicious beauties.
Candy apples were the ultimate food, in my world-wise 10 year old mind. Sweet, incredibly so, and crunchy, and crisp, and red, and easy to hold and of course exquisitely messy. There was, and is, no neat or clean way to eat a candy apple. You're simply at some point or the other going to touch it to your fingers, your face, or some other bit that ordinarily doesn't come in contact with food; that hard, sticky shell invariably finds it's way to some exposed flesh and leaves it's red candy mark there.
I cannot count the number of Field Days I've either attended as a child or endured as a parent, but I know there's been a few, and candy apples always seemed to be a part of them. Walking around as a kid, with my gap-toothed grin for all to see, popsicle stick in hand, and lips and face and fingers covered in that impossibly sticky sugar candy coating, and just a flash of white showing where I, after impossible effort, breached the candy wall and reached the not-as-sweet but deliciously quenching apple underneath.
Remember that? The worst bit, always, was trying to break that shell. And if the baker had done it really well they would have dipped it two or three times so the layer was impossibly dense, and your teeth would simply skid off it's surface like your backside down a playground slide. You either had to be psychotically in control and simply lick off enough of the candy to get your teeth some small purchase in it's face, or if you had a baker who really enjoyed layering on the candy there'd be a sort of flat base at the bottom where you could get your teeth into it and crack off some hunks, thereby cracking the brittle shell and allowing ingress.
Me, I was the kid who couldn't spend more than three or four licks on a Tootsie Pop before masticating my way determinedly to the center, so a candy apple was the penultimate challenge, even better than jawbreakers simply because there was the chance, no matter how remote, that your teeth could crack that shell. And not even choosing one with an odd shaped apple would work, because that candy shell was invariably a perfect, seamless, glass-like coating, taunting your puny human teeth.
The Candy Apple Fairy must have felt my anguish for bygone days in the smoky crisp Fall air, because on my kitchen counter appeared a tray of a dozen scarlet temptresses, sticks at attention under their cling film protection. Naturally I had to have a go at their lovely, glassine red selves. They were smaller red apples than the giants I seem to recall from my childhood, but I knew that shape and scent, and that promise of joys held hidden. I knew that feeling in my very bones. They had been dipped pretty liberally, so that there was a good-sized flare at the bottom which I immediately attacked, knowing that to be the sometimes-weakness of candy apples, but to no avail. The covering resisted every attempt at cracking, and I was reduced to, childlike again, gnawing mindlessly on it's surface. A full set of orthodontically-straightened, wisdom-teeth-included adult teeth could no more make a dent than could my bygone set of teeth that could have shelled peas through a picket fence.
And finally, magically, one canine found purchase, and then another gripped, I heard a small crack and I was in, and Fall flooded back in a wash of brown leaves, distant sunlight, and apple peel.