A Penny Candy Pilgrimage
When we were growing up, summer vacation held only one possibility for us: Harvey’s Lake, PA. My grandparent’s cottage sat at the junction of two very steep hills, First and High Streets. As our loaded 9-passenger station wagon strained to pull the long grade, we all strained to catch the first glimpse of the white wooden lawn ornament, a stork with spindly yellow legs whose wings spun furiously in every breeze. His perennial presence assured us we had arrived.
One of the highlights of our time there, besides the Lake, was the walk down the hill to the candy store after dinner. I would never make the trip alone, because as I headed down the driveway, a brother or sister or cousin would invariably want to go along. As soon as everyone secured a nickel or dime, there would be a veritable parade of kids in shorts and polo shirts flip-flopping down the hill to Saba’s general store.
We might have to stop on our way at the grand old hemlock tree that dominated the front yard of the cottage next door in order to throw ‘Pixie Dust’ at each other. (For the uninitiated, ‘Pixie Dust’ is the dank, crumbly carpet of shed hemlock needles that become, in the right hands, an organic play material not available in any store). To us, that hemlock was the friendliest tree in the world. With her abundance of reachable, climbable limbs, we spent many a happy hour in her sappy embrace, playing imagination games until we were called loudly for dinner. Even her shape was kindly, the limbs branching out from the top in gently sloping increasing lengths like a befringed dowager settling her skirts about her for a long visit.
Heading down the hill, summertime noises abounded. The cicadas buzzed their frenzied choral warning. I always wondered how they knew precisely when to begin in unison, build to an impressive crescendo, then diminuendo to a perfectly timed halt.
As we passed by Mrs. Monick’s place, we could hear her talking loudly to her dog Pudgie in the slurry, tongue-defying consonant blends of Polish. That’s how she always spoke to her dog when she wasn’t hollering up the hill at the top of her voice to ask my grandmother something, also in Polish.
When we got to the bottom of the long hill, we all ran up the steps of the shabby, weathered building whose forlorn appearance belied the riches inside. Saba’s store had the typical old time general store front – two very large pane windows on either side of the entrance, three shaky steps up the rough plank porch, and out front a gas pump whose once shiny red had faded to a flat pink.
Inside, the wooden tongue-in-groove floor was unvarnished and usually unswept. Along the length of the room ran a dark, wooden counter whose surface was cluttered with all manner of stuff – boxes of chewing tobacco and snuff, a roll of pungent orange cheese under a dome of glass, cartons of ‘Strike Anywhere’ matches, patent medicines, light bulbs, flashlight batteries in an alluring and illogical heap. But for us, the only reason for Saba’s store was the magical array of penny candy shielded from our greedy gaze by the curved glass display case.
The storekeeper stood by patiently while we all took forever to decide what we wanted. But how to choose between spicy Mexican hats, shiny red or black licorice shoelaces, sugary pink and green watermelon slices, chewy molasses Mary Janes, heavenly scented Double Bubble, good old Tootsie Rolls and those irresistible red wax lips? Sometimes I would go for broke and spend my whole nickel on a pack of Necco Wafers or a Sky Bar. What an agony of indecision, culminating in a tiny brown paper sack full of goodies.
Walking back up the hill, we were all preoccupied with our sacks of candy. Halfway home I might have already traded a piece of licorice for an orange slice. And by the time we got back, I had mentally revised my wish list for the next trip several times over.
Dianne Deloren lives and writes and is inspired by the beauty of Santa Fe, New Mexico.