Saturday, March 18, 2006

Penny Candy

A phenomenon of my early childhood was the neighborhood candy store. Even smaller than a true mom-and-pop grocery, the candy stores were often in a front room, or a side porch, glassed in and set up with a display case or two with boxes of "penny candy" propped up inside the box cover. Some had a cooler for soft drinks, most did not. They were usually staffed by older women, retirees, who used the stores as a source of supplementary income.

In 1955, when I started Kindergarten, I began to discover these places as I started to explore the world beyond my block. There was one such place on my way to school, just a twelve-foot-square room lit by a dim overhead light, run by a dowager who lived in the back room and would come out when she heard the bell on the door tinkle as the door was opened. I would go in, with my two or three pennies, and carefully select my purchase from the cellophane wrapped goodies in the case. Some candies came four or five in a tube, if I had a dime I could get a small candy bar along with gum, jawbreakers, malted milk balls and even some "Lik-em-aide", a packet of industrial chemicals and sugar that would burn your tongue if you tried to eat it all at once. Which you always did.

One day, when I didn't even have a penny, I went in and asked if she had anything thing that was free. I had evidently become aware of the concept of "free samples", and I thought that it might work here. She scowled at me, and then, as I looked sad but adorable, she relented, and gave me one hard candy that was normally three for a penny. I said thank-you, and left.

Of course, this kind of activity had its price- which my parents paid at the dentist's office. This was before fluoridated water, or fluoridated toothpaste, and I usually had a cavity or two every six months. Thank goodness for baby teeth!

By Professor Batty


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