“What fed your sweet tooth? Write about a favorite candy you remember from childhood.”
I don’t remember how old my cousin Tanya and I were when we started walking up the hill to the store by ourselves. What I do remember is a handful of change still warm from my grandfather’s wallet, blackberries and pink sweetpeas lining the steep gravel road, the heavy wooden door that stayed propped open on summer days, the old plank floor worn slick from decades of shoes, cold grape soda so sweet it burned my throat, and pockets filled with Pop Rocks, Atomic Fireballs, Dip’n’Sticks, Reece’s cups, and those wax-shaped bottles of colored sugar water. Most of it was gone by the time we made our way back down the hill, but I can remember the satisfaction of savoring a fireball or what was left of the grape Dip’n’Sticks powder as we sat on the high end of my grandparents’ deck, our stick-then legs swinging in the warm sun, the smell of that night’s dinner wafting into the summer air through my grandma’s kitchen window.
These days I don’t eat many Pop Rocks or Dip’n’Sticks–okay, I don’t eat them at all, ever–and it’s probably been 25 years or more since I drank sugar water from a wax bottle or grape soda from a plastic one. What felt like an easy stroll to my 8- and 9-year-old legs is really over a mile round-trip, and so steep I’m not confident I could make it in my current untrained state. But I can close my eyes and remember the thrill of those summer afternoon treks up the hill for a candy fix, the feel of the wind on my face, the smell of dust and gasoline and fresh-cut grass. I can remember the easy silence between my cousin and me, together but lost in our own pre-adolescent thoughts, our flip-flops clapping our heels as we chewed Pop Rocks with our mouths open and washed them down with chocolate and grape and pure sugar.
Tanya and I are tipping the mid-thirties these days, with five children and 300 miles between us, but when I think of her, my first thought is of two skinny kids walking to the store, quarters burning holes in our pockets, planning our candy purchases as carefully as we might purchase groceries to feed our families today. No candy has ever been sweeter.