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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Candy-Colored Memories

When I was growing up in South Bend, Indiana, my young world revolved around candy. I constantly thought about candy, dreamed about candy and watched never-ending commercials promoting candy. Candy made every holiday brighter. Well, except the Fourth of July — but then we got fireworks!

We lived in one of those new suburban neighborhoods that were springing up outside of cities all over America. Behind our house were acres and acres of untouched fields and woods, and if you followed a path into the woods, past our hillbilly neighbors who lived in a chicken coop (I'm not kidding), you'd follow it to Coddens Dairy Store, or "the Little Store," as my sisters and I would call it.

The Little Store was on Portage Avenue, across the road from a huge house that served as the district's "old folks'" home, and it was the sort of quick-stop, grab-it-and-go neighborhood places that have long since been supplanted by 7-11s, AM-PMs and gas stations.

At Codden's you could buy milk, bread, snacks and "sundries," whatever the hell those were. But the most important section for me was right up front — a gleaming, huge glass case displaying all manner of delicious candy. Ralphie at his Christmas window had nothing on me as I admired the selection while rubbing the quarter and dime between my thumb and forefinger.

With prices ranging from a penny to the princely sum of fifty cents, there was enough sticky, addictive sweet stuff to keep local dentists busy filling cavities created by eating candy or replacing the fillings that had been yanked out...by eating candy.

It's funny — sometimes people want to re-experience something from their childhood to see if they can recapture those particular memories. I know that's one reason that I'm so obsessed with super 8mm films, but I sure as hell don't want any of the candy that I used to inhale as a kid. It was disgusting. Here, to the best of my memory, are some of the most memorable products I enjoyed when my palate was less refined...

CANDY BUTTONS

Even when I was small, I loathed these. It took so much work to bite these things off of the strip of paper they came on, and when you did succeed, you usually got half candy and half paper. Plus, the candy was just colored sugar anyhow. Not worth the effort.

CANDY NECKLACES

Same as the candy buttons, the necklaces were too much trouble. When you bit the rings of candy off of the elastic necklace while wearing it around your neck, it would snap back, causing bits of sugar to adhere to your skin.

And again, there wasn't much flavor there — just colored sugar. Even if you wanted to just wear the necklace like some sort of psychedelic Puka, your body heat and perspiration would cause the beads to stick to your neck, which wasn't a pleasant sensation at all.

LIK-M-AID

Talk about a trip to the dentist in one convenient pouch. Lik-m-aid was a bag of flavored, sweetened citric acid that came with a candy stick that you would moisten with your saliva, dip into the pouch, and then stick into your mouth again. I can't believe I'm writing this.

Anyhow, the citric acid would abrade the roof of your mouth and the back of your tongue, and the sugar overdose would have your mother sending you to your room without supper for being such a jacked up, obnoxious little asshole.

BUBS DADDY GUM

These huge sticks of bubble gum were commonly available not only at the Little Store but at other kids' hangouts like public pools and Little League ballparks. So infused were they with sugar that their structure wasn't strong enough to blow a bubble, but a giant pile spat out onto the sun-sizzling sidewalk would gunk up your tennies and wouldn't wear off until it was time to go back to school in September.

And the heat of the sun would cause some sort of mutant chemical change. If you had the misfortune of stepping on a pile of watermelon Bubs Daddy, for example, that's what your shoe would smell like for months and months.

CANDY CIGARETTES

These little beauties came in a nifty pack that prepared you for your early teen years when you'd actually start smoking the real things. Hell — they even had red tips so it looked like they were actually alight.

I certainly didn't buy any candy cigarettes myself. They probably came in Halloween bags or were given to me by my parents' thoughtful friends. But — if it can be possible — they were even more awful than candy buttons. They looked and tasted just like lightly sweetened pieces of chalk. I think I even tried to draw on the blackboard at school with one.

NECCO WAFERS

Still available today (as most of these items actually are!), these multi-colored discs are perfect for playing Communion, which we did as kids, but certainly not for eating. Chalky, flavorless and dusted with flour so they wouldn't stick together in the pack, they were just blecchh and I'm sure they still are.

SWEET-TARTS AND SPREE CANDY

More citric acid in tablet form, these products are both still available from the Wonka candy company, but I'm glad I was able to find a picture of the Spree packaging I remember as a kid to prove it really happened.

When they first arrived at the Little Store, Sprees caused quite a sensation. Instead of racially-insensitive cartoons, the packaging featured actual photographs of young adults engaging in active outdoor lifestyles. I even remember thinking "Am I old enough to buy this?," since I was certainly not a young adult and had never skied or surfed...or even seen an ocean.

But a Spree is just a Sweet-Tart in a candy shell — my God! Just an insult of sugar. And both candies were equally adept at peeling the skin off of the roof of your mouth.

FROZEN TUBE POPS

Whatever you know them as — Fla-Vor-Ice, Kool Pops, et al, they're all the same thing. Plastic tubes of sugared, colored water whose ends you'd chew off so you could push the block of ice into your waiting mouth. Again, these seemed to be popular at pools and ballparks, and they were excellent at slicing the sides of your mouth open because the edges of the plastic packaging were so damn sharp.

That made it easy to spot a Kool Pop junkie in your midst, though — they had erratic speech, telltale blue (or red, or orange) lips and tongues and scabs on the corners of their mouth. "I just need another Pop, man! Just one more!"

LUDEN'S CHERRY COUGH DROPS

It may sound strange to today's youth, but when I was in school, candy and gum of any kind were strictly forbidden. But at the school store, where they sold pencils and paper and other supplies, they carried Luden's cherry cough drops, which were actually damn good emergency candy.

There was no medicine whatsoever in these beauties — just delicious cherry flavor. And since you bought them at school, you could enjoy them right out in class! A dream come true for any sixth grader.

But you had to watch out for the ones in the orange packaging — those were the disgusting mentholated cough drops — the kind your Mom forced you to suck on when you were actually sick.

What are your favorite or awful childhood candy memories? Comment here!


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