FARGO — Think back to the days of elementary school Valentine's Day parties. Growing up in my small town of Roseau, Minn., party days were always the best days.
Sugary cookies, cupcakes with pink frosting and cinnamon swirl bread topped with mounds of bright yellow Cheez Whiz kept us youngins energetic while our teachers tried their hardest to help us learn while using candy hearts in math lessons until it was time for a Valentine's Day movie.
But the pinnacle of the day was the ceremonious opening of valentines and candy left for each student by their peers.
Each year, kids would get the opportunity to design their Valentine's Day "mailbox" — either at home or at school as part of art lessons — and work tirelessly to ensure their box would blow all others out of the water. With an art-teacher mother and a desire to be the best that has followed me well into my 22nd year of life, my boxes were the definition of E-X-T-R-A.
But the box wasn't the best part. Oh no, when you're at that stage in life where boys no longer have cooties and you want to be friends with everyone, making sure your drugstore paper Valentine's Day cards adequately matched how much you liked the recipient was the only way to thrive. However, it wasn't just the card that was important.
The small box of heart-shaped candy that had clever little sayings printed on each one — sayings like "Be Mine" or "Call Me" — needed to send the message that you maybe liked the boy you so carefully chose the "Be Mine" box for, but weren't going to be too obvious about.
Well, the days of dropping subtle hints about being madly in love with your elementary crush are over — for kids of all ages. For the first time in more than 150 years the original conversation hearts, Sweethearts, will not be available. We may as well cancel childhood.
The story of these delightfully chalky candies begins before anyone reading this was even born. The candy hearts that used to line the aisles of big-box stores, drugstores and supermarkets got their start around the time of the Civil War.
The New England Candy Co., aka Necco, filed for bankruptcy protection in spring 2018 and closed for good a few months later in July. Ohio-based Spangler Candy Co. bought Necco in May 2018 and vowed to keep some of the New England company's favorites going.
However, with the 11-month lead time it takes to make enough of the chalky colored hearts to meet demands, Spangler Candy Co. announced in late January that the original Sweethearts would not be making an appearance in 2019.
Spangler says the company is working on perfecting the recipe before they hit the shelves again. In the meantime, competitors like Brach's are still able to get their lesser versions into stores, but they're not the same. Brach's Conversation Hearts are a bit thinner and softer than the original Sweethearts, and instead of getting their message stamped onto the candy, they are laser printed.
The days of the original colorful mounds of delicious chalk are gone, at least for this year. With hopes of making a comeback in the future, customers will have to turn to other, less traditional ways of celebrating the day of love in 2019.
Schoolkids can still pass along Fun Dip and Dum Dums to their friends — but they'll be missing out on the subtle flirting that came with Sweethearts — while they sip their red and pink juices and sodas at this year's Valentine's Day party.