Remember how the corner store had that magical smell of red licorice and malt balls?
Yes, you could actually smell it when you walked through the door. All the neighborhood stores had the same sweet inviting aroma of chewy goodness and chocolatey bliss. It was a sweet mixture that greeted you as you stepped inside and the little bell jingled behind you. Hardly a day went by when we weren't passing by the corner store, stopping in, or dreaming of it. Delicacies such as "Necco wafers" , or red licorice whips , or even those wonderful chewy "Kits" taffys cost only a penny, or three cents (in the case of Neccos). Some eventually rose to a nickel.
There was such a wide variety to choose from it made it difficult to choose at times. I usually had my favorites that I always relied on, but there also, was another type I'd try that became a new favorite.
What a Variety!
Aside from my favorites of red licorice and most everything chewy or chocolatey, the selection of penny candy was tremendous. Storekeepers, I'm sure, grew bored at watching me trying to decide on what to spend my eleven cents on. The one-cent assortment featured tasty delights that remain sticky gooey classics stuck in the recesses of our brains:
- Tootsie Rolls
- Mexican Hats
- Black/Red Licorice
- Bazooka Gum
- Kits Taffys
- Licorice Pipes
- BB Bats Suckers
- Licorice Shoelaces
- Wax Lips
- Dum Dums
- Tootsie Pops
Chocolatey & Chewy
Remember how great it was to open a fresh box of Pom-Poms, pop a big malt ball in your mouth or unwrap a Tootsie Roll? And though I loved the likes of Black Cow, Milk Duds or the caramel ecstasy of Sugar Babies and Sugar Daddys, the one-cent candy still offered a great value. It was often fun for us to load up with twenty cents worth of penny candy, then save it for the midnight monster movie that was always featured by channels 2 and 12. Eventually, when more money was available, a guy could spend the grandiose sum required to buy a large carton of Whoppers.I used to eat these things til the roof of my mouth was raw, but Whoppers were worth every bit of it. Some of the neighborhood stores actually had the large whoppers in their candy bins, or boxed on the shelves. They were known to us then as "Malt Balls", and I always loved how chewy and chocolatey they became after crunching the the shell.
Many a time my friends and I chewed taffy, pulled licorice, and winced at atomic fireballs while watching a multitude of marvelous films such as "The Invisible Man" or "I Was a Teenage Frankenstein", or "The Werewolf of London." Red Hots, Cinnamon Hearts and Hot Tamales were my favorites when I was in the mood for a little nuclear meltdown in my mouth. Hot Tamales were the most tame of the three, and offered a nice after taste once the burning stopped.
There were candy bars that only cost a nickel apiece.Among the giants, were all sorts of less popular bars like BIG TIME, HOLLYWOOD , and MILK SHAKE . I recall that MILK SHAKE bars later gained notoriety as being the ultimate freezer candy bar. I also loved Idaho Spud, Rocky Road, Big Hunk, Butterfinger, Baby Ruth, Nestle's Crunch, Hershey's and Mountain Bars.
For quite a few years, many great candy bars stayed the cost of a nickel for smaller sizes, then eventually grew to ten cents for the full size bars. The 5-cent candy bars eventually disappeared altogether, but quite fortunately, the box candy sold for a nickel, and stayed around for a long time.
The Candy Shelves at the Corner Store
Let's face it; penny candy was the real way to go when spending our dimes and pennies simply because of the bargains. You could get so much for your money (quite unlike today). Penny candy also lasted much longer than a candy bar. Candy bars were great, but only when I had more money in my pocket, and could afford to indulge.
My friends and Iloaded up those little brown bags with chewy and savory delights that might last the duration of a good TV show or two, a long talk with friends, or just something to chomp on our way home from school.
The Bounty on Bottles
Now, everybody has returned bottles to the store; it was the all-American sport. It was also a guaranteed way to have money to spend at the store. If I was resourceful enough, I could make my fortune along the gutters, garages, and forgotten fields of the neighborhood.
The old "stubby" beer bottles were only worth a penny, but they were everywhere. Pop bottles were worth 3 cents apiece as were the quart beer bottles. Quart pop bottles were the biggies; they started off at a nickel, then rose to a dime, but when the strange phenomenon known as "recyling" fell upon us, they soon rose to a quarter!
1964 was a time of clothes lines and fresh vegetables from the ground. Well, actually, I was so excited about our summer garden that I couldn't wait for the things to grow. I used to pull up carrots long before their time, but it was still a great garden. I worked with my Mom, and together, we raked and hoed the dirt to a fine powder. In our house on Francis street during the summer of 1964 , we had three fruit trees; an apple, pear, and plum tree. There was nothing like fruit from the vine. It was adventuresome; earned, and worked for. You had to climb up for that fattest pear, and shake the branches for the plums to fall. I recall our apple tree, and searching out the best greenies that spotted the summer grass.
My friend had a chestnut tree in his yard that we used to sit under to read comic books. Swapping a Superboy for a Green Lantern , or vice versa, was common business between Jerry and I. Cracking nuts with a rock was also a summer ritual. Nothing tasted better than nuts that we cracked open ourselves. There was such an honesty to the harvesting of food even in the most simplistic of ways. I used to call these dandelion puffs "wishers" because the tradition was that you make a wish and blow on them. All the tiny particles would soon be airborne, and in theory, your wish was supposed to be granted. In reality, all it did was make more dandelions.
Iceman Milkman Cometh
There was a time, circa 1961, when the Milk Man paid regular visits to our houses, leaving those magnificent white bottles stacked inside of our milk box. I was always in awe of his truck, and the box of ice he kept inside next to the driver's seat.
Each time he came, he would let us kids scoop our hands into the ice and take some. I can recall that it tasted so cold and fresh, and had a certain steely-fresh scent from being in a chilled compartment. On those scorching summer days, the Ice Man / Milk Man was a most welcome friend. He'd also let us ride on the running board of his truck as he cruised at probably 3 mph from house to house.
For a six year-old , that was pretty hot stuff. There wasn't anything better than riding on things like running boards. The garbage man used to ride on a little step next to the truck. I always thought he was the luckiest guy in the world.
I really miss those days of having milk delivered to the house. I miss the concept of refreshments in glass, such as milk and pop in pop bottles. He used to also deliver orange juice. Those big glass milk bottles were the best.
In the summer we used to always go swimming at the neighborhood pool whether it be indoor, or outdoor. Usually, the high schools opened up their pools for the general public, but having our choice, it was an outdoor pool everytime.
Some of these rituals are gone forever, never to return again, such as rolling up your bathing suit in a towel and tying it to the cross-bar of your bike. I can vividly recall the ambiance of outdoor swimming pools , and the many sensoral textures. There were Blue skies and the smell of chlorine; the feel of scorching blacktop on our bare feet as we tap danced our way toward a cool wet spot of freshly splashed pool water.
It seems such a pleasant thought now; the chorale of youthful shouts echoing joy, splashing and thrashing the surface of the water. I also remember the wading pools in many of the parks. I was always fascinated with them. They started off ankle-shallow, then gradually got deeper the further toward the center you ventured. The bigger kids usually hung out around the center, or near the cement area outside.
It was literally "Journey to the Center of the Pool" as I wandered further, cold water rising up over my knees and to my thighs. My mom used to call out to me not to go too far, but the water called to me everytime. Those park wading pools were a special treat during a very special time. I was delighted by the sun-rippled reflections in the inches-deep water, and how the water waved further toward the center. The wading pools were full of kids. It was indeed, the place to be.
There was one Summer afternoon when my brother Aaron (always a casualty), was swimming at Creston Pool on Powell Blvd. An older kid who'd been kicked out of the pool for causing trouble came across a giant rat and threw it into the pool . The idiot lifeguard on duty yelled at Aaron to "grab it and throw it out of the pool." Naturally, Aaron tried to get rid of the rat, but it curled up and bit him. .
The whole event was complete havoc; Rabies was a big scare, and my parents had to try and locate the rat in order for it to be tested. As it turned out, it was impossible, and it was a three-day wait to see if Aaron had contracted rabies or not. Fortunately, he hadn't, but it was still a very serious time in our family.
It all started during summer vacation when I was about to enter the second grade. First, let me ask, does anyone remember the term "getting your britches tanned?" If so, that very thing happened to me one summer evening.
Not far from our street-within a long walk actually, was a mountain called "Kelly Butte" . One day, the Forest Service was up there burning debris. With my imagination fully locked and loaded, it wasn't long before I had the two neighbor boys next door believing absolutely that the smoke from the fire was actually the smoke from a crashed UFO, and that the "Martians" were on their way down to get us all. I worked this story; I nurtured it from a mere seed, to a fully-blown epic. Now, something like this doesn't come easily. It took about an hour to convince them that I knew something that nobody else knew. How did I do this? Simple; I lied. I said that I had witnessed the crash only moments before they had come out to play.
Well, all good things must come to an end, and come to my end they did- courtesy of Dad's belt. The boys' mother came over, very angry because her boys had been terrified and were in tears thinking that "Martians" were coming after them. Furthermore, she testified that I had been the one to relate such a story. I pleaded guilty to a lesser sentence: just a couple belt-whacks and no grounding. This was, the end of my story-telling period.
My moral of the story: "Where there's smoke, there's only fire, and no UFO's!