Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Sweetness of Childhood - Retro Candy

I am so thankful to have grown up in an era where the government did tell the schools or our parents what we had to have for lunch or snacks. Mom made sure there was lots of healthy food on the table, rarely anything "prepackaged", even the bread made from scratch (though how we whined to get some wonder bread, because you could roll a little piece of it into a ball and bounce it). But dessert was common, and there was always a sweet snack after school.

As children, we were given a small allowance, in exchange for doing a pre-set list of chores. No chores, no allowance, the whole "something for nothing" unheard of in our household.  We were allowed to spend it as we wished. Mom and Dad did help us set up a little savings account at the Credit Union where we were encouraged to save what we earned from strawberry picking, babysitting, and paper routes. The allowance though, that had one purpose and one purpose alone.

So, what was your favorite childhood candy, and do you still enjoy it?

I keep a glass jar on my desk full of Tootsie Pops. I hunt around to find some unusual flavors to add to the standards, and currently have lemon-lime, raspberry, blue raspberry and watermelon in there with the regular flavors. I was surprised as to who would stop by my office, usually in the form of a large wall of muscle, asking me a question that didn't need to be asked, while eyes darted to the dish. Finally I said "would you like a Tootsie Pop" and I'd see a Marine's eyes light up like a six year old.

Around certain memories of childhood a lot of us never truly grew up.
I had some favorites--Charms, Marathon, SweetTarts, BlowPop, Big Hunk, Chunky, Milk Duds, Jolly Rancher Stick (the huge bar that if you bit into it too eagerly, would weld your entire jar together for quite a long time),Hershey Bars. Chicken Bones, Dots, Junior Mints, Slo Poke, Sky Bars, Astro Pops. And of course, there was always an Idaho Spud around.

I guess I got to thinking about it today, as I saw a neighbor putting up some fall decorations and realized that Halloween was just weeks away.
Halloween in my day was sugar fueled invitation. I remember Big Bro and I suiting up as quickly as firemen after hot dogs and orange jello, eager to be out the door, out into the night where the cool Fall breeze shivered and stirred the grass where the leaves had long since fallen.

I always paired off with Big Bro. In a very small town, and a neighborhood where any stranger would stand out, we weren't too much at risk but having an older brother watching made Mom feel better. We were given strict instructions though, as how much of the neighborhood we could cover, and how long we could be out. We didn't carry a store bought plastic pumpkin to hold our candy but rather, a thick pillow case.  Do you have any idea how much candy you can get in a pillow case? The limitation therein only our parents rules and Newton's Second Law.

But the trick or treating wasn't just about the candy. It was being out, after dark, by ourselves, just kids, with scores of other kids, flashlights in hand. Out in front of us, two whole blocks, dozens of houses, the darkness slung low with lights, the night blowing cool and full of promise.
One year I was a ghost. That year a lot of kids were ghosts, the lumber mill having laid off a bunch of men, and money for costumes was sorely lacking. An old sheet, a couple of holes cut for eyes and you were a ghost. Pity the poor kid who was the pink ghost, he was going to get flattened like a pancake next time the boys played dodge ball. Other years, the costumes were as wide as our imagination and bigger than all our fears.

In our garb, we hovered over places of play, breathing sugar fueled dreams like air, ashen figures gliding through the night on silent feet. To each porch that had a light on we'd go, candy bag in hand.  The houses weren't decorated up the way they are now, but on the porch would often be a lone jack o lantern, eyes shining from a candle or some fake cobwebs along the porch (those aren't fake! ack ack ack, get it out of my hair!) We'd pass each other wondering just who was that superhero, who was that under the Casper mask? We scurried along, hands waving, quick steps in time to the chatter of chilled breath, the blocks of a post war suburb stretching out, the dim lights of small town America.

As ghosts, cowboys, baseball players and Superman, we covered ground, drawing in deep breaths of it all, unutterably aware of how brief this night would be. I think even as kids we know that too soon we'd have to put this other life, this other identify away, as we melted anonymously back into our regular life, with wistful longing and the taste of sweetness on our lips.
Even though we were told to just do two blocks, we always went ahead and did that third one, or as much of it as we could fit in before our little watches told us it was time to back. We advanced, trudging up the steps to that first house, looking over our shoulders as if we could already see our Mom scolding us. We hit about six more houses, with other kids from our street, before as a group we agreed to go back. We swear each other to secret, the words not spoken but carved into stone upon which lies a nameless and forgotten effigy, those secrets of childhood we bear with us always.

There up ahead, the lights of our house. Home! We cross the empty lot where a new house was going in, following a faint path were dozens of small feet had worn the rotting leaves down to the soil. We clicked off the flashlight, whispering there in the dark about Great Pumpkins and Ghosts, where overhead, Chestnut trees thinned against the skies.
The wind had blown the clouds away, leaving a bright starry night, imaginary bat wings beating in the trees, a black cat crossing the road under the silver echo of the stars. Smoke hangs on the air suspended, the ash of burnt leaves that once rattled on the ground like tin.  I stretch out my hand into the last expanse of darkness, as if to clutch a star, to save a sweet fragment of the night to tuck into the book of that day.

Too soon it would be time to go in, the night rushing past all too quickly, stolen moments of sweetness there in the dark. As children we live in the moment, we live in a sugary world where not all is warning, where people are inherently good, and the goblins and witches and demons take off their costume and reveal a harmless smile. We know that in recollection, we see how quickly it all went past, and holding a sweet piece of time with blurred eyes, I realize we all have lost part of that, the innocence and the wonder, forever, even if memory remains.
When we got back to the house, Mom sorted through our candy, tossing anything not completely wrapped, being careful. But we appreciated that she let the two of us go without parental oversight those last few years; Big Bro being big enough to keep me safe in the street. There were so many other kids out, the streets full, an adult not in sight but for the ones with little tiny kids. She had to worry, it was dark after all, we were hardly isolated, but we were alone.

We probably didn't even look back as we ran out. But if we had, we would have seen her standing there, evanescent and forlorn, even as she put a smile on her face and waved, so we'd venture forth with hope, not fear.
There weren't many more Halloweens with her there. Too soon we lost her. Too soon we were adults living on our own and learning that too much sugar can make you fat, and that roses often draw blood. Too soon we'd understand the night's promise of unease, the dangers that lurk in the shadows, finalities that go beyond a grave. But she let us live with our innocence as long as she could, while preparing us to be fighters and risk takers, teaching us to be not fixed, but flexible in the light, no darkness to flee through and from that we could not handle armed with faith and occasionally a firearm.
Tonight, the wind is silent and the house stirs, shadows gathering in the basement, a dark pine forever trying an ancient latch on the window of the room in which I sleep. I smile at a taste of sweetness on my lips, a stolen moment of childhood nibbled before bed. Around me are homes, some dark and cold, no pumpkins yet in the yard, the doors shuttered against laughter. There are always those that look at childhood dreams like viewing something through glass, behind which is only vacuum, from which no sound emits and which, too soon, fades to where they simply live anchored, until they simply cease to exist.
Outside the darkness gathers early, evening time advancing on black cat feet. The smoke from burning wood hangs on the air, then falls to the ground, lying in wait, merging from white to grey, to the ashed hue of burned bone. I pick up a little piece of chocolate and place it in my mouth, as outside, the last ragged flame tongues the edge of the smoldering pile of discarded memory, so easily vanishing, fading off into breathless smoke upon a darkening sky.

For myself, I'll keep my little stash of candy; I'll retain the child within, these nights of exploration and magic, where my super hero costume is untarnished by time, where there is only laughter and sweetness here in a house that's become a home. As I lay back in the chair, sweetness on my tongue, I can almost hear the sound of children's feet, rushing up towards the next house, not an actual sound mind you, but something in the air which the sound of the running feet faded into. The sound of innocence, so easily lost, yet remembered there in the shadow of a chestnut tree that stands its watch in silence, gallant and forlorn.
- Brigid


  1. I remember necklaces of a banana flavored candy. They were hung behind the counter; a treat too extravagant for our soda bottle budget.

    I finally saved enough change and bought one on a whim. I was a little disappointed, but enjoyed every morsel on a hot summer afternoon. I'd earned the treat by trudging for blocks; my feet burned by the hot asphalt paving; as I looked for the bottles tossed by motorists unaware of what they're trash meant to me.

  2. You just reminded me of the two square area I would cover, with each person who answered the door inviting us in with the usual question: "Who are you?" My answer was never "I'm Dana." It was always "I'm Robert's sister." Then they'd pat me on the head, because everyone loved my big brother.

    No candy was ever checked, and the big deal one year was the homemade popcorn balls being handed out. Large. Warm. Wonderful. No worry about buried razor blades or pieces of glass. I doubt if something that horrific had even been thought of.

  3. My mom loved the necco wafers. I still grab a bag of the sweet tarts at Halloween to munch while handing out Halloween treats to the kiddies. Lemonheads were cool too. Haven't seen the candy cigs in years.

  4. I LOVE both candy and Halloween! Alas, being diabetic, I don't partake of candy very often, it is a special treat.
    Childhood memories of getting to stay out after dark, and extort adults for goodies had a special meaning for me.
    Chocolate, caramel, nougat - Milky Way or Milky Way DARK (used to be called Forever Yours!)a favorite. And candy corn.
    I dressed up at great lengths for Halloween at work, when I worked, and when it was allowed - often winning prizes for my efforts!
    But, this was something I shared with my daughter. After she was gone, it didn't hold the fun it once did.


  5. Fry's Turkish Delight

    Every day, on the walk home from school.

  6. Jess - I remember the candy necklaces but they were assorted flavors. I thought they were fun, but taste-wise, kind of boring. If they'd made one out of sweet tarts I would have bought one every week.

    lotta joy - I remember some popcorn balls, but the ladies in the neighborhood would put an address label with their name and address on the Saran Wrap or foil so Mom would know who made it. You were lucky to have a big brother, as was I.

    RichD - there's a candy store at the Indy airport that has quite a bit of retro candy. When I buy my "Big Hunk" the lady asks "are you from out West" as apparently that is where those showed up and folks that buy them there were invariably from out West. I'm going to order some Idaho Spuds, melt a few of those babies down, add some milk and some real whipped cream and a dash of brandy and put it in a crust, they make a dandy cream pie.

    John Peddie - I've seen those but never tried. I don't remember those but have seen them in retro candy ads. Now I'm going to try and find one.

  7. Candy! What memories THAT stuff invokes. One of those memories is not all that old (well, OK, 30 or so...).

    I worked in Cambridge at an MIT spinoff right in Kendall square... The Necco factory was no more than a couple of blocks from us in Cambridge... Of course our 'candy of choice' was Necco wafers (bunch of looney MIT engineer types had to adopt the local candy, except for, of course, those that didn't). Certain days of the week, the aroma of Necco wafers was amazing. I never got sick of it, but some days, probably those days when the 'smell was in the air' the candy bowl would empty quickly... Before lunch, even.

    Not everyone loved Necco, but that was an 'approved candy' when I was a kid so it became a favorite of mine. Chalky? Not as much flavour as other candy? Yep. But still, approved.

    When I was a little kid we were also allowed to have 'whistle pops'. Exactly what it sounds like, suckers made in the shape of a train whistle, and they did whistle. Loud too! Now I'm talking a long time ago - nearly 60 years. But I looked them up and it appears you can still get them. WHY the adults allowed us to have THOSE noisemakers remains a mystery. But I suppose because they didn't last long. Crunch!

    Fair Winds and Following Seas,

    Cap'n Jan

    (Loving the Barkley blog, Brigid. Going over to my boat on Monday and taking Book of Barkley with me, so I'll probably read the rest of it while gently rocking to the rhythm of Mother Ocean.)

  8. SweeTarts. The name says it all about this little work of genius. To this day, when the leftover Halloween candy ends up in a bowl at the reception desk, I mine the SweeTarts out of it.

    Close runners-up on the podium: Almond Joy and Mounds. Chocolate and coconut, with a photo-finish decided because Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't. But these seldom show up among the leftovers.

    At the opposite end of the spectrum: Candy corn, not objectionable so much as inexplicable. Maybe I expect it to taste like corn; but whatever the objection, those you like it (and some people are crazy about the stuff) can have mine without even asking.

  9. I've always been a tootsie roll fan.

    I remember at scout camp, we would compete to see who could handle the most Atomic Fireballs in their mouth the longest.

  10. My personal favorite was anthracite candy - just don't try to chew it - you'll break your teeth!


  11. Most anything covered in chocolate, the darker the better! Bit 'o honey, tootsie rolls, Sweet Tarts but I like Sprees better.

  12. Tootsie rolls, Baby Ruth, Tootsie pops, Hershey Bars, M&Ms, Mounds because it is dark chocolate, chicken sticks. I never had a chunky until I was about 36 and soon became hooked. I don't know why I never tried it before then.

    Tonight, I found a small bag of Candy Corn, still too much for me. That $0.98 size will disappear soon. So, I got it to stash until closer to Halloween. Hopefully, I can give some of it away. If not, I may throw the first half in the trash.




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