Ah, the Littmus Lozenges. (Okay, we're just going to say it: calling candy a lozenge just seems wrong.) Miss Franny Block keeps them stuffed in drawers in her library, and thanks to her, we know the entire story behind them.
Ol' Littmus W. Block lived through the horrors of the Civil War to come home to nothing. Absolutely nothing. House burned to the ground, mother and sisters dead of typhoid fever, father killed in battle. Pretty awful.
So how did he survive all that sadness? He made candy. And not just any candy. The flavor of his candies echoed his life: sweet and sad. As Opal and the others eat the candy, they taste the sweetness but also remember their sorrows. Every time Opal gives someone a lozenge, she learns a little about their life sorrows. Sounds depressing, right? But get this: knowing more about someone allows her to see their sweetness, too.
Think about Amanda. Little snobby girl, right? Well, when she eats a lozenge, she remembers her brother Carson, who died in a drowning accident. Suddenly, Amanda's attitude makes more sense—it's just a cover for her sorrow. With a party invitation and hand to hold, Amanda's pinched face softens to sweetness. Lozenge, anyone?
What it comes down to is that people are deep. Check out each of these examples.
• Otis is a former jailbird who wants to share music.
• The Dewberry boys are annoying brats who need friends.
• The preacher is a loving father but misses his wife.
• Miss Franny is a little old lady who needs love.
• Gloria Dump lives a good life to escape past mistakes.
Get the picture? Everyone tastes sorrow. As Miss Franny says, anyone who's felt sorrow will recognize the taste, but "Not everybody can taste it. Children, especially, seem to have a hard time knowing it's there" (17). You know what that sounds like to us? A litmus test for maturity.
Get it? Littmus Lozenges are a litmus test to see if you're all grown up. So, in science, a litmus test is a little strip of paper that you use to tell how acidic something is. From that meaning, it's come to mean any kind of test based on just one factor.
Do you taste the sadness and suck on it anyway? Great, you've passed the litmus test. (Or Littmus's Test.) Guess who doesn't? Sweetie Pie. She "spit [the candy] right out…. She said that it tasted like not having a dog" (19.31). That's because she's too young to see any good coming from sadness.
Opal isn't too young, though. She misses her mother but learns to see sweetness in new friends. That's why, in the last paragraph, she can say that "the flavor of the Littmus Lozenge opened in my mouth, like a flower blooming, all sweet and sad" (26.33). Oooh, love that simile. That's maturity right there.