I distinctly remember the first time I became aware of the glorious nature of candy. It was in Hanover, Pennsylvania, 1968. I was 5 years old and my family had just moved to a new neighborhood full of tree-lined streets and quaint old homes. Next door, lived a girl a year older than me named Terri, who quickly showed me the ropes of my new neighborhood and became my new best friend. In those days, before the fears of child abduction and referrals to children and youth services, kids were allowed to play outside and roam their neighborhoods unsupervised for hours. We rode our bikes, built forts and found friends to play kickball. We rode skateboards, jumped rope and floated popsicle sticks down the gutters when it rained. It was a special kind of nirvana.
At the end of our street, across from Bish’s gas station, was a tiny storefront called Wildasin’s. It was an unassuming, white stone structure with an old neon sign and a screen door that stayed open in the summer. At some point, that first summer, the day came when Terri announced that we were going to Wildasin’s. For a kid whose mother’s idea of a sweet treat was canned pears, I was giddy at the thought of such a gold mine. I ran to my room to empty the change from my Baltimore Orioles baseball bank (I was a serious tomboy back then) and ran outside with my pocketful of coins. We hopped on our bikes and rode up the street, the neon Wildasin’s sign blazing in the distance.
Upon entering the store, we were met by Mrs. Wildasin herself - a quintessential, sweet old lady with a red beehive hair-do, little round glasses and an apron. There was a small counter where people ordered ice cream and 15 cent Cokes, and at the end rested the mother lode, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow - THE CANDY. The candy display was a tall rack stuffed with more sweet, colorful goodness than anything I had ever seen. I was instantly in love. There was every kind of candy imaginable - Smarties, Pez, Sweetarts, Tootsie Rolls, Tootsie Pops, Dum Dums, Bazooka gum, wax lips and bottles of sugary liquid, candy necklaces, BB Bats, Sugar Daddies, candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars (it was the 60’s, people), paper strips of candy dots, Jujyfruits, Charms lollipops, Turkish Taffy, Mary Janes, Pixie Stix, sour balls, fire balls, jaw breakers, and little edible spaceships with candy balls inside. It was complete sensory overload and I loved it.
In 1968, a bulging sack of candy could be yours for the low, low price of 35 cents. Single pieces were a penny and if you were feeling rich, you could splurge a whole nickel on a Charms Pop or candy necklace. And that whole sack, if properly categorized, conserved and undetected by an older brother, could last a kid an entire week. The only worry we had was that the paper sack might burst if you hit a bump on your bike, so we took great care and always scarfed a few pieces immediately to take the weight off.
Childhood candy eating remains, to this day, a special kind of sport. You needed to prioritize it. Anything chocolate had to go down before it melted, Pixie sticks were a quick rip and pour, but the sour dust could give you a hacking cough if you weren’t careful. BB Bats (small taffy pops) and Sugar Daddies were a sticky, but worthy, time commitment. As were Tootsie Pops - only the truly zen kids could lick all the way to the Tootsie Roll center without biting. Candy necklaces, with their inevitable sticky neck side effects, had to be pulled delicately as not to snap the elastic as you ate the beads. Fireball eating required a cold glass of water or nearby garden hose to squelch the artificial heat. If you tended towards any kind of OCD, you ate your Smarties, Sweetarts, candy dots, Jujyfruits and sourballs by color. And if you were at all badass, you had a whole routine with candy cigarettes - holding them out of the side of your mouth while you trash talked before the chalky sugar melted or balancing them with your fingers in between “puffs”, carefully imitating your parents on their monthly card club night. And it took years, but I eventually mastered the fine art of loading a Pez dispenser while perched on my Schwinn.
Wildasin’s became a fixture of my kid life and I was thankful beyond words that my family chose this neighborhood with a hidden gem that shone like a beacon at the end of our street. A simple pleasure packed with joy. As time wore on and I moved away from my hometown, WIldasin’s became one of those great memories that lives in the back of your brain and brings a little smile every time you think of it. My tastes in candy have certainly changed, but if someone offers me a Tootsie Roll today, I’m still in. When my own children came of candy eating age, I shared my nostalgic tales of Wildasin’s and my old neighborhood, usually as I was plotting how to steal my faves from their Halloween stash. They rolled their eyes and gave me a half-hearted “wow, Mom, cool”. It always made me a little sad that in our ramped up, politically correct, safety obsessed, anti-sugar society, my kids never knew the special joy of coasting down the street on your bike, no helmet, unsafe flip flops on your feet, the breeze drying a sticky candy necklace in place on your neck.
Terri and I have stayed in touch over the years and often reminisce about our old neighborhood. We are keenly aware of the all the changes that have taken place in the world and can’t help but be a bit wistful now and then. And we remain ever grateful for the little bit of sweetness that Mrs. Wildasin brought to those glory days and now to our fading memories.