penny candyBack in the day, which is to say, so long ago I would rather not count the years, there was a little store in my home town called Alice’s. While it presumably sold other items, to us kids it was the penny candy store. A sugary feast of feasts.

And what a penny candy store it was. Most sweets were a penny a piece, though in those less than affluent days I admit to focusing on those particular candies that were 2 for a penny. A quarter would seemingly last forever, or at least long enough to build a sugar high or a belly ache, depending on your tolerance and candy selections. If you got a rare red gumball out of the machine you were entitled to five cents worth of free penny candy.

I recall there being chewy jelly fish (not to be confused with jellyfish), which were like today’s gummy bears but shaped like fish. There were waxed bottles. We would bite off the top and drink the colored sugary liquid inside, then chew on the wax itself like it was gum. Long strips of paper had candy dots, to be picked one at a time and tossed into mouths. Caramel bulls-eyes were a favorite, as was licorice in shapes ranging from cough drop sized bullets to six-inch long sticks to spaghetti strand ropes a yard long. Probably because of this early indoctrination, I’m still partial to red licorice sticks sold as “Twizzlers” today.

In those days the tobacco companies were still successfully denying smoking causes cancer, so we kids could also buy candy cigarettes and make believe were were smoking. Alice would also sell real cigarettes to kids who were buying for their Moms and Pops. Though I was never a smoker, I assume some of those cigarettes never made it home. On the other hand, it was a small town and Alice knew every kid and every parent so she would periodically check with the parents to make sure the “cancer sticks” arrived intact.

Alice’s store (later officially Van’s but probably still called Alice’s to this day) had a big Coca-Cola cooler where you could grab a glass bottle of Coke to wash down your candy. And it was Coke; Pepsi existed by that time but was not as popular. Even better (or so I thought then) was Birch Beer, a sugary concoction that tasted more or less like root beer. You could get the root beer too, along with Moxie (which is a story in itself).

As the old Mary Hopkins song goes, “Those were the days, my friend. We thought they’d never end.”

David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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