Revisiting the world of penny candies

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I recently bought Marilyn a treat, a bagful of those little heart-shaped candies with the sayings printed on them. It always used to be fun to take a handful and make up some romantic sentence, but these were different. Instead of sweet nothings, they had things like “text me” and sayings in the cryptic language of the texting generation, most of which I couldn’t decipher. But it got me thinking about candies from my kidhood.

When I was a little kid (a phase that for me lasted into high school!), my sister, Joyce, and I and all our neighborhood friends used to walk home from school every day. We lived on a farm about 3 miles from St. Anthony’s School in Oconto Falls. Almost everyone in our neighborhood was Catholic, and we all went to St. Anthony’s.

In those days, the school buses didn’t carry kids to the Catholic schools like they do now, so we had to walk, unless the weather was really severe; then some parent would come, and 10 or so kids would all pile into the car for a stuffy ride home.

Walking home from school took us past Makoski’s Butcher Shop and Grocery Store on the West Side. It was a tiny mom and pop store, not much bigger than our living room, and Mrs. Makoski stocked a big counter of penny candies and gums, so most of us stopped there almost every day to spend a penny.

Mrs. Makoski was a rotund Polish immigrant whose English was fairly well obscured by a heavy Polish accent, but she was a jolly lady and welcomed us into the store, knowing that we hadn’t come in to loiter or just to get warm; we were there to spend our pennies.

And what an array of things there was to spend them on. Does anyone else remember the little wax bottles filled with fruit-flavored syrups? All you had to do was bite off the top of the bottle, drink the syrup, and then, best of all, you could chew the waxy bottle. Sounds weird when I think about it now, but back then … . I think they actually came in little packs of five, but Mrs. Makoski always separated the packs so we could get just one.

Wax lips. How could you not smile at someone who wore wax lips? They were sort of the forerunner of the Rolling Stones logo, I think. And wax fangs, too! They were great, and when you were done playing Dracula, you could chew the lips like gum. Sorta waxy, but OK!

How about Blackjack gum? Wow! Three sticks for a penny. Licorice-flavored black chewing gum that made for great theatrical jokes about missing teeth. Coat a tooth with Blackjack gum and it looked like you had a missing tooth. Never got tired of that joke! Or Clove gum? What a strange flavor.

Other penny gums were Beemans, Teaberry and Fruit Stripe Gum, “Yipes Stripes!” It had five flavors and a really sweet smell.

Sometimes the girls would get candy necklaces, small, hard candies (sort of like Smarties) on an elastic band so that they could wear it as a necklace. I remember the girls eating them without taking off the necklace. Or Candy Buttons. These came on a strip of paper about a foot long, and you could eat them right off the paper.

And we used to buy Candy Cigarettes. “Lucky Smiles” was one name; there were others, but I forget. They were white candy sticks with a red end and came in a pack that looked like a cigarette package. Great thing to sell kids, right? And there were also bubble gum cigars. That’s probably the closest I ever came to being a smoker. They’d for sure be politically incorrect today.

And Necco wafers. They came in a roll with a variety of colors and flavors. I remember yellow (lemon), orange (orange), (green) lime, purple (I don’t think it was grape!), white (cinnamon?), pink (wintergreen?), brown (chocolate), and black (licorice).

How about Walnettos? Walnettos were walnuts surrounded by chocolatey, chewy caramel that made for a delicious walnut chew. I’d sort of forgotten Walnettos until the old “Laugh-in” TV show in the ’70s. Remember the Artie Johnson-Ruth Buzzi dirty old man skit on “Laugh-in”? Arte Johnson would say, “Want a Walnetto?” and Ruth Buzzi would lambast him with her purse. I read somewhere that the company that made Walnettos was nearly out of business, and that that skit, often repeated on the show, revived interest in the candy, and it is still available today.

Remember Jawbreakers and Gobstoppers? Gobstoppers were cool because they had many layers of different flavors. I could never suck on them long enough to get to all of them; I always bit them in two after a little while and then you could see the layers, like a cross section of the earth with its many subterranean stratas.

And Charleston Chews, chewy chocolate, strawberry or vanilla flavored nougat with a delicious chocolate coating. And Atomic fireballs, red hot cinnamon candies. Root Beer Barrels. And Razzles: “First it’s a candy, then it’s a gum.” All these things come flooding back to me, just because I bought a cheap bag of valentine candy for my valentine.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.