The Living Was Easy

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It’s summertime.

Look at those self-satisfied faces.*

They know.

Those girls know, even though the oldest is only 9, they know how lucky they are.

They are lucky to spend their summer days on a farm, a farm where they have the freedom to roam, to sit in the haymow and dream, to chew a stalk of hay.

Four cousins, together for only the summer months. They are lucky to play together with absolutely nothing to worry about except breaking a plastic flip flop or getting sticky drips of Popsicle running down an arm.

School doesn’t start again for a month. Their moms will take them to the “little beach” down the road and their bathing suits will never completely dry out all summer. Their dads will call them away from the TV in the evenings, to help corral cows that have wandered beyond the fence line.

Later they and a dad and a dog or two will make the trip for soft ice cream. The ice cream shop has not yet gotten the technology to make a twist of two flavors so the hardest decision of the day will be chocolate or vanilla.

These girls were so lucky to have this childhood. They knew it then and they are even more convinced now.

Every year, when summer arrives, the scent of new-mown hay or the taste of the first corn off the stalk transports them back to those days, and they smile those self-satisfied smiles and remember how it was summertime and the living was easy.


* I just saw this photo of my sister, my cousins, and me for the first time (that’s me on the left, then cousin Paula, sister Kathy, and cousin Jill). Paula gave it to me a couple days ago and I’m not sure I have a photo I like better! Do you have a photo that sums up your childhood? Shouldn’t you write a blog post about it?!

A couple of bloggers took me up on this!

Deb at SevenCub’s Blog

Deb at A Daily Dose of Fiber

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The Penny Candy Store

City_Mercado_Dulces_2The pennycandystore beyond the El

is where I first

fell in love

with unreality . . .

–from “The pennycandystore beyond the El,” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

When I spend time around small children these days, as I just have, and I see them obsessed with sweets, I think, “Tsk. They shouldn’t be eating that stuff.”

And then I remember when I was that age, when the happiest occasion in my life was to go to the penny candy store and stock up on treats that were garishly colored, unremitting, unrepentant sugar. Pure crap.

Pure heaven.

Our penny candy store was not beyond the El. We grew up on that farm I am always talking about and the nearest store, about 8 miles away, was a small, old-fashioned corner store run by the Delormes.

This kind of store was the more honest, more interesting version of today’s convenience stores. It was small and carried everyday items. It had a wooden floor that buckled and heaved as the temperatures changed and it had twine, for wrapping your parcels, in a dispenser hanging from the ceiling.

But I’m surprised I even remember those details because when I went to Delormes’ store, I only had eyes for the candy.

The candy was behind the counter but kids were allowed to go back there to feast their eyes on an array of pure bliss, and to make their momentous choices.

The choices weren’t easy. Delormes had it all.

Those little dots of hard frosting on paper that you peeled off, sometimes getting a shred of paper on your tongue with the candy.

Those paper straws full of powdered candy that you poured into your mouth to mix with your saliva and create a sludge that was hard to swallow. I wonder how many kids got vestiges of that powder into their lungs.

Those candy necklaces, little disks of colored candy strung on an elastic cord, that you could wear around your neck or your wrist. I know from experience that, if you wore it around our neck, you could stretch it up to reach your mouth in order to munch away. The string got sticky and wet and then got tangled up in your hair and made it sticky and wet. Incredibly unhygienic.

Incredibly fun.

The store had red and black licorice sticks, of course, unwrapped so you could buy a few and not use all your pennies on a full packet. They had Bonomo taffy and red hot dollars and atomic fire balls and peppermint patties. And Mary Janes, although I would never choose those!

My sister and I loved the Mallo Cups, which cost 5 cents but were worth it.. A Mallo Cup, for the uninitiated, is a perfect cup of milk chocolate, studded with toasted coconut and filled inside with marshmallow crème. And, AND, in the Mallo Cup package, you always got a little cardboard coupon. When you collected enough cardboard coupons, you could send them in and redeem them for more Mallo Cups! Free! For two nerdy little farm girls, getting a package in the mail with free Mallo Cups was about as thrilling as life got.

A trip to Delormes meant you left with a small brown paper sack, stuffed with goodies. If you were really lucky, your grandmother or mother would buy you a Fudgsicle to eat right away so you could save your candy for later.

You would sit with your sister, just you two in the parlor on the blue Oriental rug, and review and your compare your purchases. You might trade or split some candy to share. You would always try to make your last longer than hers, so you could gloat.

Ferlinghetti says that the penny candy store is where he first fell in love with unreality.

The whole concept of penny candy certainly feels unreal now. It’s unreal to think of buying anything for a penny. It’s unreal to think that the candy would be there in bins, open to the air and dozens of grimy little hands.

It felt unreal to us then, too, but in wonderful, magical ways. Unreal that you could feel so rich, with just a quarter to your name. Unreal that the candy was colorful and whimsical and so varied that a person’s goal for their whole childhood could be to try every single one.

Unreal that such a simple thing could provide such silly, simple joy that the memory has lasted my entire life.

Did you have a penny candy store to go to when you were little? Do you even remember penny candy?

A Window in the Kitchen

geese2When I was a child, my grandmother always talked about how glad she was that there was a window over her kitchen sink. She lived in a big old farmhouse and the window looked over the back yard, with the sugarhouse and the chicken coop.

I never understood what the big deal was. Nothing happened in the sugarhouse, except during early spring when the sap was being boiled down, and who wants to look at chickens?

Now that I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, tending caramel while it burbles on the stove or stirring chocolate for long periods, to temper it, I finally understand what my grandmother saw there.

Looking out a window, and letting your mind wander, near and far, helps pass the time spent doing the most prosaic chores. My grandmother didn’t just see chickens scratching and empty farm buildings.

She saw her grandchildren playing and, maybe in her mind’s eye, she remembered her own children out there. She lost a daughter, at age 12, so maybe she remembered Ruth swinging on the gate, and the boys on the ponies.

Maybe she remembered her own youth, on a farm not far away, and in her memories moved from the farm kitchen, doing dishes and baking bread, back to tree climbing and rambling through the orchards.

This is the view I’m fortunate to have outside my kitchen window, to occupy my eyes and mind while I make candy.

geeseSince candy-making season, for me, extends from fall to spring, I can watch the seasons change outside this window. In the fall, I watch the leaves turn on the trees across the bay and see, and hear, the Canada geese and snow geese as they spend a few raucous weeks getting ready to head south. Then I think about the time when I’ll fly south and visit my mom and friends, and escape the North Country winter for a little while. It’ll still be here when I get back!

Before too long, I’ll be watching ice fishermen instead of geese and reminding myself that, if one goes through the ice, I should call 911 and absolutely should not run out on the ice to try and help! I’ll wonder what makes those fishermen tick—what do they think about while they sit out there waiting for a bite? Why are they there? Do they need the money so badly that it’s worth catching fish in the cold?? Or are they out there daydreaming, while I’m in my warm kitchen daydreaming?

And, in a few months, I’ll catch my first glimpse of a robin outside this window. I’ll see those geese on their return flight and think about the cycles of seasons, days past and future, what tomorrow and this season will bring. I’ll look forward to summer, when family and friends gather here at the lake, and I’ll study the landscape for the first signs of growth, re-birth, in my gardens.

It’s not just a window to outdoors, although the outdoors is well worth viewing in its own right. My window is a trigger for my memory and my imagination, just as it was for my grandmother and no doubt her grandmother before her.

When I was a girl, I looked out the window. It just took me a while to see.