by Paul Kiernan
remember penny candy..."
spent the summers in Marshfield, Mass. We used to walk down the
beach, Mom and my brother and me. Wed go this place called
Buds, a huge general store where you could get anything
from fishing tackle to T-shirts to outboard motors to...penny
the back wall were row after row of slat wood baskets filled with
candy. Gumdrops and kisses, Swedish fish and licorice twists.
Every kind of candy you could imagine. All of it a penny a piece.
would give us a quarter each and my brother and I would pick up
our small brown paper bags and walk slowly up and down the rows
of baskets, taking our time. Making the perfect choices. Twenty-five
cents bought twenty-five pieces of candy, and the assortment was
mind boggling to the young, sweets-starved mind. I was allergic
to chocolate, so mom would watch me closely making sure I didnt
let a Hersheys Kiss or tiny Nestles Crunch Bar slip
into my wee booty sack.
fireballs, caramel cream bulls eyes, mouth puckering sourballs,
and, of course the round, individually wrapped pieces of Bazooka
bubblegum. FOR A PENNY. And that wasnt all because, along
with the gum, you got the wrapper. The wrapper had the Bazooka
Joe cartoon, the joke, the fortune and the lucky number. All that
entertainment for one penny.
full, brimming with sugary treats, my bother and I trundled
up to the register whereand this is the amazing
partthe man behind the counter would ask how many
pieces you had. Hed just ask. He wouldnt count
or weigh, he just asked.
please," I would say, always mindful to be polite. Fingers
would pop the keys of the ancient register, the tiny 25 flag would
pop up, and I would hand over my quarter. One quarter in exchange
for the seam busting bag of candy. Pure joy.
would walk back to the cottage from town along the beach showing
mom our treasures and explaining to her why they were so good.
Adults, we knew, didnt fully grasp the simple perfection
of penny candy. My brother and I would compete between each other
over who made the best choices. I knew, somehow, that he had the
best stuff because his sack contained the forbidden treat: chocolate.
But he is a good soul, and he never played that trump card in
our game of one-upsmanship.
at the cottage, wed sit on the porch and lose baby teeth
in the sugar laden rock of Bazooka gum. Wed laugh at Joe
and try the jokes out on mom. What an achievement when she laughed.
Even better when she explained the jokes to us and then they would
be told over and over again at the dinner table for the rest of
summer of my twentieth year, my parents decided to sell the cottage.
It wasnt equipped for winter, and with the kids at school,
it wasnt worth the trouble of summer openings and fall closings.
Most of the places around ours had become year-round, and familiar
neighbors were fast disappearing. The quaint little town was growing
up rather quickly.
the summer of 1985 I decided to spend the season at the cottage,
alone. As I opened windows and took protective sheets off the
furnishing, memories of summers past flooded over me and I was
overwhelmed with how much I missed the place. Once I got the rooms
aired out and turned on the gas and the electricity, I headed
down the beach. Down the old route to town.
soon as I climbed up the concrete steps that led from the beach
to the small town center, I realized my trip was a mistake. Buds,
the run down everything storepenny candy havenwas
completely different. It looked like it had been air lifted out
of a strip mall and placed, shiny and clean, into the town square.
I stood out front looking over the brand new block letter lighted
sign. Gone were the ancient wooden steps and the black wood doors.
Gone were the flock of geese and ducks that lived behind the fence
with the motors and boats and piles of lobster traps. The quaint
shop I remembered so well had spent its life savings of charm,
character and warmth to buy a face lift. Now, it could stand proudly
in a line up with any other Walmart or Kmart.
inside was new as well. Polished linoleum floors, and coolers
full of Diet Coke and Pepsi where the old soda fountain had been.
The back wall, our weekly Mecca, was now covered with metal racks
housing bags of chips and boxes of candy bars. When I asked where
the penny candy was, the young girl behind the counter looked
at me like I was an escaped mental patient.
happened to the penny candy? Where are the little brown paper
have bulk candy," she said. "You fill a bag and bring
it to me and I weigh it."
okay," I said. "I bet it doesnt taste the same."
just candy," she replied.
walk back along the beach was depressing. Nothing seemed the same.
I thought this beach was clean. Where did all the sea weed and
trash come from? Back at the cottage, I unpacked my bag. I put
shirts in the closet and then I opened the top drawer of a dresser
my brother and I used to share as kids. The sweet smell of sugar
smacked my nose. The bottom of the drawer was covered with Bazooka
gum wrappers. The fossils of the one cent complete entertainment
dumped the drawer out on my bed, sat down and read them all. The
jokes were inane, the futures were ridiculous little plays on
words and Bazooka Joe and his gang were a bunch of freaks. But,
I laughed outloud and remembered summer nights and cheeseburgers
and my mom telling us to stop clowning around and get to sleep
and knock-knock jokes and my brothers kindness about having
chocolate. I put the wrappers in a plastic bag and put it into
my case. I packed my bags, loaded the car, and headed back to
the morning, I was having coffee, talking to my mother on the
phone. She asked why I had come home, why I wasnt spending
the summer at the cottage.
... that place is just a dump," I told her. "I couldnt
stay there another minute."
thats why were getting rid of it," mom said.
"I have no idea why we held on to it for so long."
that day I went down to the hardware store and bought a handful
of nails, I needed to put up some shelves. The nails were loose
and the man put them in a small brown paper bag. At home I dumped
out the nails and filled the bag with the gum wrappers. I put
the bag in a small box with a handful of Hersheys Kisses
and mailed it off to my brother with a note. The note read, "Thanks
for never playing the chocolate card."
weeks later I came home from work and there was a message on my
machine from my brother. All he said was, "I remember penny