A few years ago when I had a new book releasing about Southern women, the publisher asked me to speak at a conference for owners of small bookstores across America.
In the midst of the book tour that included Atlanta, Nashville, Memphis, Birmingham, Little Rock and Charlotte, we added a stop in Pennsylvania. And not just anywhere in Pennsylvania but the spot known as the sweetest place on earth: Hershey.
The conference itself at the Hershey Resort was memorable. It was mainly because the first-time author who spoke before me turned his allotted 15 minutes into 52 minutes and bored the audience to such an extent that only a few woke up to listen to my stories.
He was a nice man, a very humble one. But speaking was not his forte. It’s a lot more complex than it may look and there’s a bit of a science to it: entertain the audience, move them emotionally and pack a point to each story.
Once I agreed to speak to a Rotary Club and drove an hour to keep the commitment. A member of the club, clearly not a fan of mine, took the floor and refused to yield. In the end, I had given up the better part of a day to speak for 10 minutes.
Back to sweeter things, though.
The trip to Hershey was fascinating. While the rest of the tour took me to the legendary Peabody in Memphis, the revered Tutwiler in Birmingham and the old Duke Mansion in Charlotte, which was once the majestic home of the man who founded American Tobacco and funded Duke University, I was captivated by the gentle town built by the chocolate created by Milton Hershey.
Milton and his wife, Catherine, died childless. As a result, they left their entire fortune in a trust that oversees the Milton Hershey School for disenfranchised children.
That trust is the sole shareholder of one of the world’s largest chocolate fortunes. This is amazing in a time when few corporations still exist without mergers of any kind yet this corporation, the maker of Kisses, chocolate bars, Reese’s and syrup, answers solely to children. There is something particularly poignant about the fact that kids love candy and Hershey’s candy loves children.
Since chocolate kisses are stirred in a nearby factory, the air hangs sweetly with the smell of diet-free thoughts. With check-in, you receive a big Hershey’s chocolate bar. The morning that I ordered breakfast — an oatmeal brulee made with Hershey’s chocolate — I received another chocolate bar tucked onto the tray. I knew I would never forget Hershey, Pa., or the Hershey Resort. I was determined to return.
When Tink and I planned a trip to Connecticut to visit his family, I suggested a stop in Hershey for an overnight stay at the resort. This was better than where he wanted to spend the night: Gettysburg.
“We won there,” he said. “Don’t you want to visit?”
“I prefer to eat chocolate than recall defeats of the bitterest, bloodiest kind,” I replied.
The first time I visited, a blanket of lush white snow covered the ground while thousands of lights twinkled in the night amid the stonework and the charming structures that dot the streets. Hershey is a town that ages well. So when I returned with Tink in tow five years later, it was still as lovely even without the snow. Of course, Tink, who has a sizeable sweet tooth, was won over completely by the first chocolate bar.
“How can you not love a place that has chocolate kisses sitting in bowls throughout the hotel?” he asked.
But the sweetest thing about the town that calls itself the “sweetest place on earth” is our cravings are the makings of better futures for under-privileged children. And that, is worth an over-indulgence of Reese’s pieces.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “What Southern Women Know.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.