How Sweet It Was

When I was a child, I loved sweets.  My siblings and I searched for coins in the gutters by the old Monson Inn, where wrinkled men sat on the cement steps, smoking cigars and drinking from little glass bottles.  Fortunately for us, the men often dropped change on the ground and inevitably, one of us would find a few pennies or a nickel – enough to fill a small brown bag with penny candy from Siren’s store.  

It was a short walk to the store – down Dye House Hill, over the bridge across from Ellis Woolen Mills, and past South Main Street School.  We would stop on the bridge to watch dye spill into the river from a large round hole at the bottom of the bridge, and play on the merry-go-round and swings in the school playground.  Finally, coins in hand, we would pull open the wooden door to Siren’s Store.  A hanging bell tinkled our arrival and the inside smelled of bread and State Line potato chips.  Across from the door and to the left was a huge glass display case, filled with a large assortment of penny candy.

The selection seemed endless; wax lips, Mary Janes, Bazooka bubble gum and candy cigarettes sat behind the polished glass, begging to be chosen.  There were Fireballs and wax bottles filled with sugary colored syrup, Pixi Stix that turned your tongue bright red and orange, Turkish Taffy, Boston Baked Beans and Indian Pumpkin Seeds.  There were candy lipsticks and candy buttons.  There were Sugar Daddys and Sugar Babies, Root Beer Barrels and Red Hot Bottle Caps.  We would stand on tip toe, smudge the glass by pointing at our choices, and ask the patient Mrs. Siren for “One of those,” and “Two of these,” until our money was spent.  Then, handing her the sweaty coins, we would slowly walk home, debating which candy to try first, and whether to suck or chew.

 When I was seven, I was particularly enticed by television commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  The commercial showed delectable round cakes covered with marshmallow and coconut that when sliced in half, revealed a fluffy cream center.  My mother never bought this type of treat.  She made cookies from scratch – oatmeal raisin, molasses, sugar jumbles. She baked vanillla cupcakes iced with butter cream that was whipped with beaters we would beg to lick clean.  They were nice, but they did not have marshmallow shells and delicious cake with fluffy cream centers that came two to a pack; one to eat and one to share.  Every afternoon during the Ranger Andy cartoon show, there were commercials for Hostess Sno Balls.  I became obsessed.

Hostess cakes came at a price – ten cents for one pack! It took me weeks to scavenge enough pennies to equal a dime, but at long last, I did.  Instead of waiting for my sisters, I took the walk to Siren’s Store alone, ignoring the dye splashing into the river, passing by the empty swings at South Main Street School.  I opened the door to the store and looked for the shelf that held the snack cakes. There they were – Hostess Sno Balls, in all their marshmallow and coconut glory.  I proudly counted the pennies into Mrs. Siren’s waiting hand and stepping out the door, hurried to open the package.  Not wanting to wait until I got home, I took a big bite, eagerly awaiting the delicate marshmallow to melt in my mouth, searching for the cream filling in the center of the cake.  I stopped in surprise. The marshmallow was rubbery and the cake was not tender and delicate like my mother’s cake.  And the luscious cream filling was not fluffy and light like my mother’s whipped cream.  It was thick and tasteless.  I looked at the uneaten cake in my right hand and the one-to-share in my left.  I thought about how long it took to save up that ten cents and how many fireballs and Bazooka bubble gums I could have bought.  Now all I had were these spongy gobs that probably would have bounced, had I thrown them. 

I walked to the bridge and watched the brown dye empty into the river.  I looked at the Sno Balls and looked down at the water.  What more damage could a couple of Hostess Sno Balls do?  I threw them over the rail, one at a time, and watched them bob to the surface and float away with the current.  Then I hurried home.  There was still time to look for change in the coin return of the pay phone by the Monson Inn.  Maybe my sister Robin would go with me.

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