As I walked through my local pharmacy today towards the cash register, the flow of the counters directed me past shelves filled with candy. This time of the year most of it was of the Easter variety, but there was an ample supply of non-seasonal temptations too. Usually I can resist that temptation, but my eye caught a package of caramel creams which caused my feet to veer to the side and lock up in front of the display. Caramel creams are those semi-round pieces of caramel with the white nugget center. They kind of look like a wheel from Fred Flintstone’s car. They’re basically half an inch of sugar held together with caramel, which means they have, oh I don’t know, maybe five hundred calories in each one. I was addicted to those when I was a young boy, which explains why Dr. Allen, my dentist, tells me that I’m one root canal away from setting the record for his practice. Yes, I bought a bag.
When I got to my truck I ripped open the package, unwrapped a caramel and popped it into my mouth. No better time machine has or will ever be invented. Immediately I was whisked back to 1965 and found myself standing in front of the candy counter at the corner store a block away from my house. Those were great times to be a kid. In the summer you could leave home after breakfast and not come back until supper. No one worried about you because there was a town full of family and friends watching out for all of the neighborhood kids. If there were evil doers about, they stayed well hidden.
When it came to buying candy, money wasn’t much of a problem. Those were the days when empty soda bottles were worth two cents each and penny candy really did cost a penny a piece. I had a regular scavenging route. I left home, went up to 12th Street and turned left. Then it was one block to Elm, turn right on 11th, go straight until Buffalo Street and then turn on Vogan Alley. After that I turned left on Liberty, back to 12th street (making sure that I hit the back porch of the Elks Club) and continued on until I go to the corner store. I never hauled in less than fifty discarded pop bottles. That translated into a dollar profit which was huge in 1965. You could buy a lot of candy for a dollar back then.
I had my favorites, starting with the aforementioned caramel creams, but I wasn’t an elitist. My usual take had an ample supply of red shoe string licorice, pixy sticks, water melon slices, jaw breakers (dentists really love those) and Mexican hats. I usually topped it off with a Mallo Cup or a Chunky Bar. Oh my, life was good.
The corner store was great, but if you wanted some serious candy there was only one game in town and that was the candy counter in G.C. Murphy’s, one of the small department stores on Liberty Street. The square shaped candy counter was located in the center of the store and was a kids dream. One side of the square was for the chocolates, another was for hard candies and still another was for the gummy candies like orange slices and salt water taffy. You didn’t buy candy by the piece at Murphy’s; you bought it by weight. We still have stores where you do that today, most malls have one. The difference is that at Murphy’s the candy was fresh and you didn’t have to take out a short term loan to buy a half pound of red licorice wheels. That brings me to the next part of the story.
My cousin had a paper route in those days and I often helped him with it. Sometimes I’d help deliver the papers and most Saturdays I’d help him collect payment from his customers. I remember helping him do that one Saturday in July in 1965. It was a good day and most of his customers paid in full. So after he paid his bill at the newspaper office he had quite a bit of profit left over.
There’s some dispute over who made the suggestion first but, in the interest of fairness, I’ll take the blame for the original idea. That idea being… “Let’s stop over at Murphy’s and get some candy.” Now remember candy was cheap and he had about eight dollars profit, half of which was destined for his savings account. So here’s the scenario; two ten year old boys, eight dollars in their hands and standing in front of the largest candy counter in the county. How much money do you think was left in my cousin’s pocket as we walked away from the cash register? Yep, that’s about right.
The town library was on the route between Murphy’s and my cousin’s house and it was lined on two sides with massive maple trees. The roots of those trees were equally massive and they shot out from the base of the trees in all directions, upending curbs and sidewalks wherever a foolish piece of concrete thought it could stand against the unyielding strength of wood fiber and Mother Nature. Those roots also made perfect seats for two boys with eight dollars worth of candy to sit while piece by piece they disposed of the evidence. It took three hours but, when we waddled away from those trees, the candy bags were empty. If memory serves, our plan was to grab our baseball mitts and play catch for a couple of hours to work off the candy stupor.
My aunt was waiting for us when we got home. “How’d collection go today?” she asked.
“Really good,” my cousin replied. “I got eight dollars after I paid my bill.”
“So, you give me four dollars and I’ll put it in your savings account on Monday.”
“You do have four dollars left, don’t you?”
“What did you do with the eight dollars?”
That’s the first time in my life I actually remember thinking “Oh shit, we’re in trouble.” I don’t remember all of the details about what happened next. A person’s mind has a way of protecting him from bad memories. I do have flashes though. I remember that my aunt grew about ten feet taller and that her eyes became wide and red with rage. I remember that we tried to turn and run and that tentacles reached out to pull us back. I remember pain.
Being young, eventually we both healed and eventually we both returned to the candy counter at Murphy’s. I renewed my love of Smarties, pixy sticks and caramel creams and that love endures. Sometimes, like today, it takes me back to a simpler time before the internet, iPhones, and video games. It takes me back to a time when two boys didn’t need cable TV or a PlayStation to make it through the day. Two beat up baseball mitts and a brown, weathered baseball that had seen better days could do that, especially if you helped it along with a bag of candy eaten under a maple tree.
So, Dr. Allen, that’s where my teeth started down the wrong path. I really do appreciate the hard work and effort that you and your staff have expended to get me back on the straight and narrow and the progress you’ve made. It is too bad though. Unless you count that unfortunate incident when I was in college, I’ve never actually been this close to getting the record in anything.