When I was a kid, there were but two things you could offer that would get me to do… well, just about anything. Change to use in a vending machine or to play video games, or…candy. Either choice was fine by me.
While I adored chocolate bars, it was the candy you could pick from at the front counter that got me most excited. For 25 cents I could grab five to seven pieces from the jar – a beautiful mix and match of delicious sweetness.
I had always wondered why they called it penny candy when, in the ’70s, it cost much more than a cent. Then, one night, I watched the television edit of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, and it all made sense. In the opening scene, a group of kids rush into a candy store and the shopkeeper sings “The Candy Man” as he walks behind the counters, ripping off sheets of candy buttons and scooping candies from jars into their little hands.
Back then it was more about the sweetness, and the rush. Today, it’s about memories. I remember wearing candy bracelets and necklaces, taking an entire afternoon to eat them, my neck and wrists sticky and stained by the time I got home. Candy buttons were much more fun to eat one at a time, as you counted them. Wax bottles were challenging and delicious. I would spend several minutes trying to suck every bit of juice possible, then chew the wax until there was no flavor left.
I remember getting a lollipop at the doctor’s office, sucking on root beer barrels with my dad, and chomping down on candy cigarettes because they just tasted so good. Smarties were a staple in the penny jar, as were Tootsie Rolls and licorice.
These old-fashioned sweets are just another way I differentiate yesteryear from today. When I was growing up, candy was a treat or reward, even something you had to earn – like when my sister promised to give me a quarter if I wouldn’t tell our parents I’d seen her kissing a boy.
Today, it’s everywhere. Almost every household has a candy stash somewhere. But when I was growing up, you could raid the cabinets all you wanted. The best you were going to find, if you were lucky, was cake frosting.
Whenever I get my hands on penny candy, I can’t eat it right away. I have to sit down, look at it, smell it and think… then savor it, slowly. It brings me back to a time when I really had little to worry about and few responsibilities. It reminds me of afternoons with family and friends, or riding freely around town on my pink banana-seat bicycle.
And that’s why, whether I’m feeling blue or celebrating, forget the flowers. They’re nice, but they don’t prompt me to sit down and take the time to remember simpler times. They don’t remind me of the beach, the local gas station, the park and Saturday afternoons. Not like a handful of old-fashioned sweetness.
What were your favorite candies as a kid? Were they chewy, like Mary Janes? Bitter like black licorice? Or sweet as can be, like Necco Wafers or candy buttons?