One of the musical’s my beloved wife Lolly likes to watch is “On Moonlight Bay” with Doris Day and Gordon McRae. Based on some of the best stories of Booth Tarkington, which were about a preteen imp named Penrod, it’s fun to watch. And one of the best moments in it comes right at the end when the youngster in the story opens his birthday present from an aunt, finds the biggest pocket knife on the planet, and begins opening the blades one at a time, each one bigger and nastier than the last one. The look on his mother’s face is worth the proverbial million bucks.
That scene always reminds me of something we had when I was a kid, something long since gone, a store we called a specialty shop, toy store, magazine shop, cigar store, or candy store — take your pick. Usually we called them candy stores, but it didn’t make much difference what we called them, by and large they all sold the same things.
What they sold were things that both attracted kids and a long string of adults that flowed in and out of them. The adults were in there mainly to buy things that adults still buy today — cigars, cigarettes, pipes, tobacco and magazines.
And so were the kids.
Well, the big kids anyway.
No laws against smoking back then, you see. Didn’t need them. Laws or no laws, no one smoked until he was an adult — in size if not in age, all that really matters. Nobody thought a thing of it.
And anyway, it wasn’t all those 12 cents a pack coffin nails that attracted kids to those places — you could buy those in a grocery store for 11 cents a pack. It was all the other things.
Ah. yes. The corner candy store. What a place!
Everything your heart desired. Every season of the year.
March? Paper and string kites. Buy one, unroll it, hook the strings to the thin wooden slats so the paper bowed out tight and the kite was ready to fly. Add a slim cloth tail. Tie a string to it. Scamper up to the top of Ward’s Hill, let it fly in a stiff March breeze, and watch.
Is there anything more beautiful in the eyes of a child than the sight of brightly colored kite flying before the wind?
I doubt it.
At least at that moment there isn’t. A child lives from moment to moment, you know, and the sight of your own kite rising higher and higher as line reels out and wind whips your hair around your head is about as good as life gets.
Ah, yes. Hair. Had some back then. I remember it well.
Of course that was in March, Johnny. (Not hair, wind.) But March is not the only month of the year.
There are others. July, for example.
Time to blow up something in celebration of the time when we decided to brew up tea in Boston Harbor.
And get rid of all those o-u-r endings. You know? Harbour?
Of course, even back then some towns and cities did not allow the sale of practical necessities like fireworks. But they were always the larger towns, and just outside their city limits sat a smaller town, with a handy dandy candy store.
And, if not, there were always those temporary stands hauled into place, set up, and filled with everything explosive a young heart could wish for. Cheap too. You could buy cherry bombs at three for a dime, or a box of 50 beautiful two-inchers for just 50 cents. That’s a lot of bang for a buck — not to mention a penny.
And bang we did. All over the place — including in town — for at least three weeks. Did anyone get hurt? Not that I ever heard of. Except maybe the in-town merchants who had to sit around moping as they watched all the profits going somewhere else.
But then maybe those town councils knew what they were doing. Who knows? All I know is I bought those lovely red explosives, I fired them off, and I had a good time. So did we all. And never once did I see a city policeman bother anyone about it either.
Anyway, it wasn’t all empty tills for the stores in town. They sold — legally, of course — caps for our guns. In rolls. In sheets. And — when it came to the really big ones — in singles.
For a nickel you could buy a roll of five 50s, 250 caps that separated into rolls of 50 to be put into a cap gun and fired off as fast as you could pull a trigger.
Caps for reproductions of beautiful double-barreled pirate pistols came in sheets of 50, or even in singles. Those singles, loaded under the two hammers of the gun, were biggies. Wow! Sounded almost like two-inchers! I never owned one of those beautiful double-barrels. Cost too much. But I got to shoot one once in a while.
I learned to aim and fire with a cap gun. Worked out well too. The first time I ever held a revolver in my hand I pointed it at what I wanted to hit and — bingo! — one dead pop bottle.
Come October? Halloween, of course. We didn’t wear costumes. Who could afford things like that? But the number and kind of 5-cent masks was endless, and trick-or-treat was just as much fun.
Summer? Slingshots. We usually made our own, but there was a metal model that had a support that rested on your wrist, allowing a long, strong pull on the rubber band, one that would launch a peach pit into low orbit.
You had to supply your own peaches, of course, but at a penny apiece, tree ripened and juicy, and with a solid pit to launch after you were done eating that was no problem.
Yes, those candy stores had it all, including lots of jokes and magic tricks. What kind of jokes? Exploding cigars, for one.
As I said, everything a kid could ask for.
And Mom could worry about.
But hey, I’m still here, am I not?
Be 79 years old in a week. Got all my fingers too. Didn’t lose a one. No scars. No burns. Nothing — except a lot of fun. Got both eyes too.
And I don’t even need glasses anymore.
Seems that if you’re nearsighted your eyeballs are too short. The image focuses behind your eye. As you get older, you shrink. Including your eyes.
So you renew your driver’s license, get your eyes tested, and the nice lady back of the counter says, “Guess what? I won’t be putting any limitations on your license anymore.”
Makes sense to me. A lot of things become clear as you age.