Chris Smith: For Santa Rosa fire survivor, gift of chocolate meant the world

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Eat the chocolate now.

That’s the primary take-away from the experience that has Carol Newman’s head spinning, her heart overflowing and her taste buds firing once again like the cylinders of an XKE.

Also just now the retired Santa Rosa teacher and burned-out survivor of the Tubbs fire marvels at the amazing humanity that continues to flow from the historic October disaster.

TO BEGIN: Carol likes chocolate, very much. For years she’s especially enjoyed the Fireworks Chocolate Bar from Trader Joe’s.

Promotional materials from the chain store told how the candy sparkles or pops on the tongue and enlivens it “with both chipotle and pasilla chiles, along with a touch of salt.”

How that sounds to you or me is not important. What matters is that Carol loved those Fireworks Chocolate Bars.

Trader Joe’s discontinued them about the middle of last year. Carol was, as you might expect, bummed.

She could not drive by a TJs without stopping to see if the store might have a straggling Fireworks bar or two on the shelf. None did.

LAST JULY, Carol and her husband, Barry Sovel, drove one of their four grandkids to Universal Studios. Now and again on the cruise down the state, the travelers stopped at a Trader Joe’s to check for a remnant of Fireworks Chocolate Bars.

“It was just kind of a little quest,” Carol said.

It must have been like running into a dear someone you feared was dead when she found three of the bars at the TJs in Santa Maria, in Santa Barbara County.

She bought them and treated them like the suddenly rare, nearly extinct delicacies they were.

“I savored them,” she said. “I was really stingy with them.”

She would come to wish she’d ripped into the chocolate bars right there in the Santa Maria parking lot and consumed them like a starving bear.

AS THE FLAMES of October swept toward her and Barry’s home off Riebli Road, northwest of Santa Rosa, the couple escaped with their computers and hard drives, their passports, their pillows and precious few other possessions.

If I’ve heard right, it seems that people who fled their doomed homes with little or nothing commonly suffer random pangs that accompany the dawning that this grandfatherly pocket knife or that preschool drawing or a honeymoon memento or the spoon handed downed through four generations or some silly little thing that resided since antiquity in the back of the sock drawer is gone and never to be seen again.

Carol probably looked like she’d taken a blow-dart to the neck the instant it came to her that she’d left in her home one entire Fireworks Chocolate Bar and part of a second. The damnable fire had claimed what were quite possibly the last tastes of the sweet-salty-peppery-popping Trader Joe’s candy on Earth.

Coulda. Woulda. Shoulda. Carol affirmed that she should have eaten the last of bars long before, removed them from the unforeseen peril of the firestorm. She adopted a new mantra, “Eat the chocolate.”

SHE DIDN’T LET the fiery loss of the Fireworks bars derail her life. But she did mention it while together with a couple who are close friends.

Well, those friends happen to have a daughter who works at a Trader Joe’s many states away. The couple casually asked her if she might check to see if any Fireworks Chocolate Bars remained in her store.

She did. There weren’t any.

But the young woman didn’t stop there. She told a Trader Joe’s buyer about her parents’ friend losing her home and chocolates in one of the California fires.

I do know who that woman is, but promised at her request to not name her.

The buyer she told about Carol ran a search for remaining Fireworks bars. Finding none, he contacted the company that had produced the discontinued chocolates and repeated the tale of the California woman whose home and hard-earned candies were lost to flames.

Someone with that producer, or multiple someones, went to work creating one last batch of Fireworks.

In April, Carol received a parcel containing about three dozen generically wrapped bars. She can barely speak about the kindness of all the people who took part in granting her that gift.

When I last checked with her, Carol had eaten only a few of the bars, leaving the rest exposed to raids by people close to her, ants, moisture, natural disasters. Some people just never learn.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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