After perusing the candy & snack foods section of Walgreens on a lunch hour last week, bombarded by breath mints, sugarless gum, and rice cakes, I started thinking about all the sugar-saturated goodies from my childhood, I won't - or in some cases, can't, eat anymore. Candy necklaces are now replaced by Fruit Roll-Ups, healthy cereals and vegan bouillon cubes shaped like Angry Birds. (Only kidding about the bouillon cubes.)
When I e-mailed my 30 and 40 -something friends about their most beloved childhood candies, I received such non-commercial replies as "Remember those sugar dots on paper and you'd rip 'em off and there'd be paper on the bottom of em (Yummy!)" or "I used to love those wax sticks with extra sugary liquid inside." Occasionally, you see mock versions of these favorites in 59 cent packs by the check-outs of small supermarkets, along with other 60's standards. There are knock-off versions of chocolate wrapped like gold coins, candy and bubble gum cigarettes, Bazooka and Blackjack gum, and Chiclet gum in tiny burlap bags hovering near check-out counters of Bodegas and 7-11s nationwide.
Trading candy was a subculture among kids in the 1960s. We swapped Slo-pokes and Milk Duds like teeny-bop magazines and baseball cards. Cartoon characters were devised to sell sugary cereals, not vice versa. TV commercials introduced us to Quisp and Quake, the twerpy alien figure and the brawny he-man, not to mention Boo Berry and Count Chocula. Growing up in the 1960s, even some of the "bad" food we enjoyed had historical significance. For example, astronauts were a big thing, moon walks and all. Once my friends and I tried to emulate them by eating a lunch of Space Food Sticks and Tang...the only space-walking we did was to the bathroom.
Or how about the do it yourself treats? Incredible Edibles consisted of a mold and some gooey liquid- you'd pour it in, plug the contraption in and -waa-laa- an hour later- tooth decay!! Also on the must-have list - Easy Bake Ovens, as well as cotton candy makers featured in the back pages of the Sears Christmas Catalog. All of this punctuated by the smell of Crackerjack being created as we drove past the Crackerjack factory on on the way to Cubs games. But there was a definite and painful price for candy binges. I once ate a six pack or regular size Hershey bars in one sitting. A week later I was at the dentist for five fillings. Not to be outdone, my brother ate a whole pack of Baby Ruths one Halloween and was sick for a week. Aah, the days of sugar overload -a bonding experience for kids who grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
I worked in the candy section of a Montgomery Wards in high school. Along with my co-workers, an aspiring actress and amateur filmmaker, I sprinted back and forth in the cubicle on nights and weekends. We must have run a marathon each by the end of the week, serving up Sno-Cones, butter-slathered popcorn and peanut-filled chocolate wedges that weighed a pound each. We scooped up bags of miniature Heath bars, jelly rings, peanut butter cups and Jolly Ranchers to polyester-clad housewives, Little Leaguers and scores of our Monkee Wards co-workers. The other store clerks loved to spend their break time getting a sugar rush and kibitzing with us about our creative projects. We were quite the store celebrities. (So, a writer, an actress and a filmmaker walk into a bar…) My co-workers and I pilfered a few candies here and there, but we didn't gain any weight. Running back and forth fetching candy that would render the customers hefty pared the weight off us.
Now candy is a kitsch thing, (there's a Pez museum in California), a snob thing (tangerines dipped in gourmet chocolate and such), or totally verboten by politically correct lawmakers and rice cake toting Super Moms. It’s interesting to note that most kids growing up in the 1960s and 1970s – even ‘80s kids who occasionally devoured Dweebs candies and Bar-None chocolate- didn’t become obese, develop ADHD or fall prey to other health problems like today’s kids. Kids back then played outside after school, riding bikes or walking to the mall instead of texting or sitting at a computer. Yeah, they watched lots of TV, but playing outside counteracted a lot of that inactivity.
Indulging in candy used to be a fun thing, a secret society for kids. I guess you might call the “sugar high” from candy a prelude to the “highs” we got from other things once adolescence hit. Sweets were a rite of passage, at least until the purchase of that first Tiger Beat made the candy counter at Wards passé.