When I was growing up on Syracuse’s south side, there were two grocery stores within walking distance of our home. Steve Gilbert’s store was at the end of our block, and one corner away there was a smaller grocery – Mather’s.
The close location to each other of the two stores wasn’t unusual back then. Thinking back, I can count at least five corner groceries between our house and McKinley Elementary School and that didn’t include Mather’s Store which was in the other direction.
Steve’s was the destination whenever we were sent to the store by my mother, and also any time we craved a soda or some ice cream. But there were many times when our appetites were moving us towards what quickly was becoming an oddity of the moment – “penny candy.”
It was a heavily polished glass paneled cabinet which attracted us to Mr. Mather’s little store, and it wasn’t by happenstance that we would be found staring into that cabinet at what seemed to be hundreds of boxes full of “penny candy.”
As we entered his store, Mr. Mather would grab one of the little brown paper bags that he had on his side of the candy counter, just right for our daily candy purchase. Some of the many choices were one penny each while others were “two for a penny.”
The selection process wasn’t an easy one and it usually took several minutes to trade our nickel or dime for the little bag of candy. There might not have actually been a hundred choices in that cabinet, but picking out the best and tastiest ones was nonetheless an important job, and took a lot of serious thinking.
There were “Mary Janes” and “Bit O’ Honey,” chewy goodies wrapped in colorful waxed paper that wasn’t easy to remove from the sticky candy.
There were “jawbreakers,” which we thought could easily live up to their name as we put our hearts and souls, and teeth and – yes, even our jaws – into biting, chewing and crushing that little round ball of candy into bits, pieces and “smithereens.”
There were many different varieties of licorice candies – little twisted ropes, licorice in many different shapes including pipes, cars and animals, and candy-coated licorice squares, rectangles, triangles and circles. There were little wax bottles filled with a sweet, syrupy liquid.
There were little colorful candy buttons attached to paper strips, chocolate nonpareils, ribbon candy, tootsie rolls and Necco wafers packaged in smaller than usual rolls so they could fit in with the other penny candies.
There were also candy necklaces, bubble gum with cartoons printed on the wrappers, cellophane wrapped caramels and root beer barrels.
While writing this I thought of another whole source of childhood candy: the movies. As I remember, along with a box of buttered popcorn, a Saturday afternoon treat at the movie matinee at one of our neighborhood theaters inevitably included a little box full of – Good and Plenty, Hot Tamales, Juju Fruits, Boston Baked Beans, Dots, Red Hots or Mike and Ike.
All that candy – no wonder we were good friends with the family dentist.