When I was a kid there was a store a couple blocks from my home. Kesslings Drug store. It was a grand old store. Hardwood floors worn and darkened with age. A magazine rack tucked away at the back of the store. An old fashioned soda fountain and counter with the little silver stools that spun around and around. And a penny candy counter with the little brown paper bags to put your purchases in.
Recently, I was reminded of this little haven from my childhood when a friend and I were discussing tastes and flavors from the past. I mentioned Tangy Taffy. This was a foot-long bar of pulled taffy that came in a wide variety of mouth-watering flavors like Cherry, Grape, Watermelon, Strawberry, etc. My favorite was the strawberry. The point about Tangy Taffy was that it was deceptively sweet before it got eye-wateringly tart. I loved this stuff.
Another favorite of mine as a kid was the edible lipstick. Now this was an awesome invention in confection. It came wrapped in gold foil, with about half an inch exposed, and resembled a tube of lipstick. If you licked the top and spread it across your lips, it actually left behind a streak of what I would call hooker-red sugary color. If it actually dried on your lips, they became rather stiff. This stuff tasted wonderful—unlike the real thing, which rather tastes like one would imagine an old tire would taste like were one to actually lick an old tire.
One of my husband’s favorites as a kid were the boxes of candy cigarettes. These were long sticks of bubble gum wrapped in a piece of paper that resembled a real cigarette. If you blew into the cigarette a puff of ‘smoke’ would actually filter out. Isn’t it amazing that they sold these things and no one actually banned them out of fear little kids would become addicted to smoking? Neither my husband nor myself are smokers and yet, this was a rather novel piece of candy.
And let’s not forget the wax mustaches and lips that tasted great for about ten minutes at which time the wax became unbearable to chew any longer. And speaking of wax, what about those little soda bottles filled with sugar water in a variety of colors?
Or the candy coins wrapped in gold foil? Or those long sheets covered in candy dots—pure sugar! Oh and another favorite—Black Jacks! The black, white, and pink striped pieces of taffy that had a very hard to describe but rather delightful taste of anise and spearmint rolled into one. Razzles—the candy that magically changed into gum! Giant Swedish Fish!
All of these things could be bought with a penny. I’d take a quarter with me and come home with a sack of delights I would munch on then hide in my sock drawer hoping my sisters wouldn’t sniff them out, and rob me blind.
Kesslings is still there. You can still buy a brown paper sack of penny candy, but it’ll cost you a lot more these days. The cherry cokes are just as delicious, and still made the old fashioned way. Sadly, the candy lipsticks are now crunchy sticks of tart candy that don’t leave behind any color. They don’t make Tangy Taffy any longer, which really is very sad. My husband recently bought me a package of Razzles and they were almost as good as I remembered.
My oldest sister still lives in my hometown. When her son was little, I took him to Kesslings. As my feet walked across the hardwood floors, I was transported into a simpler, more magical time—my childhood. Never lose the flavors of your past. They make you who you are, what you remember, and what emotions you feel. Be open to new flavors, new memories, and new nuances of yourself. There’s no better way to go through life than by tasting it.