When I was little, peppermints belonged to Sunday mornings, and to Sunday mornings only. Peppermint rolls were tucked inside many black patent bags before church, and distributed discreetly during the sermon. Mum and Tante Janny were the official peppermint dispensers at each end of our pew. They could divine when a peppermint moment had arrived. Their timing was usually very good. It was rare that their peppermint moments coincided and we ended up with two rolls of Allens’ Steamrollers travelling up and down the pew in opposite directions.
When you sucked a peppermint you got a nice jolt of steam up your nostrils. But peppermints also served many practical purposes. If the minister unfolded more than a three-point sermon, you had enough peppermint-fuelled energy to absorb the fourth, fifth or sixth points. You had the energy to sing the closing hymn with vigour, even when the minister chose a slow Genevan hymn, and others around chopped the notes with disrespectful haste. You could Praise God from Whom all Blessings Flow, and sing out praise to the whole Trinity, including the Holy Ghost, without flagging. And you had the strength to ride all the way up and down the last Amen in the Three Fold Amen.
Ah-men, Ah-men, Ah – Ah –Ah – Ah-men.
When I was six I began to swallow these peppermints whole. A few blinks, a gulp, and the peppermint went down without a proper chew or suck.
Why did I begin to do this? Mum had said to me: You are not allowed to crunch your peppermints. I knew this meant that you should suck them, not chew them. Sucking was silent and solemn. It gave you thoughtful, concave cheeks. I imagined the minister looking down from the pulpit, happy at the many thoughtful and concave cheeks. He would find pleasure in seeing this reaction to his well-crafted, doctrinally sound sermon.
Then, my next hollow-cheeked thought: How could you suck peppermints down to nothing? It must be bad to linger over peppermint goodness for too long. You should really have your mind on other things during a well-crafted sermon. Once you were suitably refreshed, you had to take the Gulp. A big, scary, sanctifying Gulp. The timing of the Gulp could never be perfect- I knew this. Sometimes I was tempted to suck too long on the peppermint before it went down-this was greedy. Sometimes I swallowed too soon- this was harsh. The unsucked peppermint would scrape my insides angrily.
I knew that I had constructed a strange peppermint theology. I wanted a way out. I said to my mum: When you told me not to crunch peppermints, I thought that meant I had to swallow them whole. She laughed and said: I only meant that you should suck them quietly; you don’t have to swallow them whole.
My mum and my aunties laughed together over the pepermuntje story. My older cousins laughed too. I didn’t laugh, but I was glad that my peppermint gulping could stop. It was a family joke, as well as a strange niece, a weird cousin.