2/06/2014

Candy necklaces

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Mama’s Losin’ It

A favorite candy when you were a child. Is it still a favorite?






When I was a little girl, the closest store to our farm was owned by an old lady named Gertie Barger.

Miss Barger (I can't recall ever hearing of a Mr. Barger) was a former schoolteacher who ran her store out of a dilapidated old house that had wildly sloping plank floors, wooden shelves of dusty canned goods, and a couple freezers toward the back.

My parents shopped there occasionally.  It certainly wasn't their store of choice. The prices were high, the merchandise was often outdated and the selection was poor. 

They went sometimes anyway though, because Miss Barger would extend credit to my family.  We were tobacco farmers, and that meant most of the cash our family saw came once a year in the winter when the crops were sold.  The rest of the time we were cash poor.  And Miss Barger would let us buy things on credit.

I remember going into the store with my Mama on many occasions.  Miss Barger was a tiny, bird-like, stooped old lady with big beehive hair and cat-eyed glasses who wore dresses with baggy nylons or sometimes polyester pant suits, and I was utterly and completely terrified of her.  She watched every single thing that happened in her cluttered little store with an eagle eye and was never hesitant to point out a misbehaving child, or worse, an impolite one.

While Mama would shop for canned goods and flour and other staples that she would then beg on the good graces of Miss Barger to put "on our account," I usually stayed close by her for fear that Miss Barger would have a sharp word for me, but occasionally I would venture over to look at the dusty cardboard trays of candy.  There were Hershey bars and candy cigarettes, Sweet Tarts and Sugar Daddies, Jaw Breakers and Now and Laters, and my very favorites - candy necklaces.

After Mama had finished shopping and Miss Barger had painstakingly written down every bag of dried beans and every pound of cornmeal in her spidery handwriting on the ledger she kept behind the counter, and if I had not been rowdy or displeased her in any way, she would pull out a box of candy from behind the counter and offer me my choice from it.  If I was very lucky, there would be a candy necklace there, just for me.

I could always tell that Mama didn't really like me talking the candy, but she never told me no.

I would thank Miss Barger properly, sometimes at Mama's urging, then rush to the car to rip the plastic packaging off so I could put my necklace around my neck.   I would usually bite down hard on the first candy, crunching the two pieces that split from around the stretchy string with my sharp teeth.   After biting a couple more off, I would start to suck on the next little pieces, leaving orange and blue marks on the white string where my mouth touched it.

I wasn't greedy with my candy necklaces.  Sometimes I could make them last for days, only eating one of each color at a time - first blue, then yellow, then green, then red, always saving my favorite orange for last.   In between my nibbles I would wear it as an accessory, the candy beads becoming sparser and the stretchy string getting grimier with each passing hour and day.

I completely lost my taste for candy necklaces around the same time I was old enough to understand all the reasons why we ever even shopped at Miss Barger's store in the first place.  It was also around that same time that I started to realize that Mama didn't like me to take the candy not because she didn't want me to have it, but because it was so very hard for a proud woman like her to be put in the position to accept help in any form.  Another realization about that candy hit me much later - it was in a box behind the counter because it was so old and outdated that it could no longer be sold, only given away.

Growing up poor is very different from understanding what poverty really looks and sounds and feels and tastes like, and for me, poverty will always have the sugary sweet taste of a candy necklace.


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22 comments:

  1. Exactly! Men have feelings too - I hate that many of them think it's not ok to express them.

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  2. That makes perfect sense. My boys are very activity oriented so it seems like something that would work with them. Thanks for your comment!

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  3. Poor looks very different to a child, but at least you got to have a few days of sweetness every now and then.

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  4. Oh yeah. Don't bother him when he is going through the mail. He can't read how much the oil bill is and listen to me at the same time. It makes me nuts.

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  5. I used to love those too. And you think my Mrs. Schneider sounded frightening? Yikes!

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  6. I loved those things as a kid. Heck, I still like them. When my daughter gets one I have a bite, always.

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  7. I loved candy necklaces, the are now my daughter's favourite and it is great to see her enjoying them in the same way that I did growing up!

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  8. I guess dirt old candy is better than no candy at all! My candy necklaces never lasted more than an hour. ;)

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  9. I know! I really wonder if she was that scary or if it just seemed that way because I was so little.

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  10. The orange ones are still the best. :)

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  11. That's awesome! My younger son loves them too.

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  12. Oh I made those things last FOREVER. I bet they were really nasty by the time I was done with them :)

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  13. I remember getting candy necklaces...but mine never lasted long enough to wear. I ate all the candy within an hour of getting it! (and I wonder where my daughter gets her insane sweet tooth from?)

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  14. Seriously, mine would last for days and days. I cringe now to think of the germs. Ugh.

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  15. I totally agree. My boys tend to clam up and I'm always working with them to let it all out. It's not easy that's for sure!

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  16. Wow...what a heartfelt post! Love this one.

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  17. What a beautiful story, I love how the necklaces make you remember all that. I loved candy necklaces and candy buttons.

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  18. It really is tough. I just want them to know that the CAN say what they're feeling. It's so tough sometimes. Parenting is hard :)

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  19. I have experienced so much frustration and pain teaching my husband, who was taught to never express feelings or talk about them at all, to acknowledge that he even feels anything. For that reason I have taught my son to express himself. His articulation and expression of emotion has always amazed me. Now that he's older society has gotten hold of him, and he clams up where there are friends involved. But then I see that guard let down and his true personality shine through, and I pray that my efforts and pain were worth it.

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  20. I love this post so much. What a vivid, bittersweet story. I ate my candy necklaces exactly the same way. I can see you standing close to your mom, her urging you to say thanks. This must have been very hard for her.

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  21. I hate that society has gotten hold of your son in this, but I know that will happen with mine, too. That's why it's so important to me to try to teach them these things before it happens. It makes me feel so helpless sometimes to know that what my boys learn outside my home will likely be so very different from what they learn inside it, but like you, I pray that all my efforts will have an impact. One kid at a time , I guess. One kid at a time.

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  22. It's really only as an adult that I started to understand what she must have gone through just to make sure our basic needs were met. As a child I didn't have a clue, but I can only assume that's the way she wanted it. Now that I have kids I know that I would go to great lengths to make sure they don't have to face harsh realities before it's absolutely necessary.

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