Monday, January 24, 2011

Candy lessons

The elementary school I went to had grades K thru 4. My third grade teacher was Mrs. Morrison. It was a standard school surrounded by plenty of open space to run as well as jungle gyms, giant swings, basketball hoops, slides and the ever-present teatherball. I ate lunch almost every day in the cafeteria. The food was prepared in-house by a magical group of workers whom were almost all moms of kids that attended the school. The food was always outstanding and I enjoyed almost all of it. I never owned a lunch box. I never took a sack lunch to school. A sandwich didn't compare to a big plate of hot food and I wasn't a picky eater. Our sunday family dinners included just about every vegetable available. Heck, I loved spinach when other kids wouldn't get near it. Bring on the meatloaf and if there was salisbury steak then you better watch your fingers because I'm going at it HARD!

There was a strange little building that sat on a corner of the school that was simply called THE CANDY STORE. I don't know if it had a real name but this was the street name that all the kids used. I don't remember much about the structure other than it was basically a one room building and was set up kind of like an old soda fountain only more sparse. I don't know why it was there or why it was allowed to exist but it was there nonetheless. This establishment was available to all kids at the school at lunch time as well as after school. They had a big counter with lots of candy on display for sale. They served fountain sodas in little cups and I'm pretty sure they served frito pies maybe even hotdogs. But mostly they sold candy. Lots and lots of candy. As an adult now I can't even begin to imagine this scenario at a public school much less think about how kids would be affected with large amounts of candy available to them at lunch time. I'm pretty sure my first trip there was in first grade sometime. It wasn't unheard of to eat lunch in the cafeteria and then run off to the candy store before hitting the playground for recess. I'm sure there had to be kids who ate there every day for lunch. There were days when I would ask and I would get money to eat at the candy store for lunch but those times were rare.

I actually didn't eat much candy as a kid. I would have some if it were available but I didn't crave it or beg for it. I liked slopokes and suckers and sweettarts and baby elephants. Baby elephants? I'm not sure how it started but at some point in my young impressionable mind I managed to get Baby Ruth convoluted into Baby Elephant. I have never known the reasoning behind this little nugget of misplaced information but there it my early years a Baby Ruth was called, by me, a Baby Elephant. Now, I distinctly remember standing at the candy counter and the nice lady behind the counter would ask me what I wanted and I would blurt out, A Baby Elephant. She would just stare at me and say there wasn't such a thing but I knew there was. And so began the ritual of pointing out the candy bar I wanted on the wall of the store while the nice lady would go along pointing here finger at all the candy bars till she hit on the correct one and would grab one and send it my way. I'm sure I could read Baby Ruth on the candy wrapper but it didn't sink in that this is what it was called. I don't know why. Kids are weird.

They also sold Charms pops which were the predecessor to the round charms pops you see today. Back then they came in cherry or grape and were flat on one side and had bumps on the other side which I believe were meant to be grapes or cherries. I liked the little suckers for what they were but I may have liked them even more for their gimmick. Every so often you would get one and take off the wrapper and there would be a Willy Wonka style magic ticket inside that would get you exactly one free Charms pop of your choice. I remember being so excited when I would get the magic ticket and then would race back to the candy store to proudly display my Major Award and receive my freebie. It was awesome marketing and it worked perfectly on me. And you would win fairly often, maybe one in four, so a kid wouldn't get dismayed over never winning. It was genius. I was a winner playing a candy slot machine that only had a 25% payback.

Mrs. Morrison had a classroom that featured two entrance and exit doors. One was the normal door that went into the hallway and the other exited directly outside. I'm sure it was a fire escape but I didn't know that in third grade. We used it during fire drills but I didn't know it was there for that purpose. For myself and most kids it really only served one purpose. It was the very closest gateway to the candy store. The front door of the candy store and the classroom exit were directly across a small gravel street from each other.

In our school there weren't enough buses to accommodate all the kids so the buses were grouped into two different time slots. Some kids rode the bus to their homes and when the bus had finished it's route it would return to the school and pick up a second group of kids and go on a different route. Also the same buses served the separate elementary, middle and high schools. But to make the job easier some of the buses began their pickups and different schools with a third of the buses going to each school and then progressing to the other two in succession. My bus just happened to begin picking up kids at the high school and then went to the middle school and then to the elementary. So there was a good half hour of wait time before the bus would come around to pick me up and any other kids on my route. Our bus was generally about half full at most.

One day my friend Bruce and I had been asked, or volunteered, by Mrs Morrison to help with some task inside the classroom after school. I don't remember what it was. It was probably stapling bunches of paper or moving desks or cleaning chalkboards or, hahahahahaha, clapping erasers. Wow. Hadn't thought about that little task many many years. Anyway when we finished our task Mrs Morrison gave us, I believe, a dollar to take across the street to the candy store and get ourselves a treat for our wonderful assistance. We readily accepted our prize and ran across the street and promptly loaded up on exactly one dollar worth of sodas and candy, which was quite a bit back then as many candies were five cents and I believe a cup of pop was fifteen cents. We grabbed it all up and meandered back to Mrs Morrisons room when we were met with angry eyes. Apparently somewhere between seeing the dollar for goodies and exiting the room we were given instructions to each get exactly one thing and bring back the change but that had obviously fallen on deaf ears. I remember a fair scolding and some guilt about not listening and following directions. Our great candy triumph had turned into a minor tragedy. She even told the story to the class the next day as a leaning lesson about following instructions. I was sorry for not listening and learned a valuable lesson that day that has remained with me my entire life. It's funny how some events just stick while other seemingly superb experiences just flitter away like they never happened. I think guilt has an express lane to memory central when it's time for your brain to choose what goes on the hard drive and what doesn't.

I once ran into Mrs Morrison in a checkout line at walmart after I had went off to college. She immediately recognized me and we laughed and shared the candy store story to everyone in line at checkstand number 2 that day.

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