Monday, January 2, 2017

Bottles and Bitterness

I grew up in southeastern Idaho in a town of about 700 people. We lived a few miles out of town on a piece of land that included 40 acres of farmland behind us. We had a half acre, with half of that fenced for pasture and thirteen apple trees, while the other half held the house, a huge garden, a row of liliac bushes, a huge pine tree and several maple trees for climbing. We raised chickens, pigs, and an occasional calf for the freezer, supplemented with deer, to feed the family, plus my mother would spend weeks during the summer canning the veggies from the garden. We had a cellar in the basement with shelves lined with mason jars filled with the end result of her toil. She did a meat sauce that was to die for (we finished our last jar years ago), spaghetti sauce, plus canned corn, green beans, peas, pickles of every flavor, raspberries, strawberries, etc. We had a root cellar where the squash in a multitude of varieties was stored and my mom used all of those things to produce wonderful meals (minus the liver and onions) for the extent of my childhood. We also had boxes and cases of fresh fruit, which was always available on demand during the appropriate seasons, plus we worked hard to harvest the apples from our trees so mom could turn them into mason jars of yummy goodness just waiting to be cooked into pies and cobblers. It was wholesome and healthy and very good.

The one thing that was lacking candy.

I have had a sweet tooth for as long as I can remember and never seemed to get candy frequently enough to satisfy it. I would fantasize about having all of the candy I could eat in front of me all of the time. I remember telling the neighbor boy, Joel, that when I became an adult, I would have a huge bowl on the kitchen table filled with candy bars of all types, so I could have one any time I wanted. True story. I realized when I was twenty-four, studying for college finals, with a huge bowl of candy bars on the table in front of me, most of which I would never eat, that I had actually internalized that desire and made it come true. Light bulb moment for me. Once I recognized what I was doing, the compulsion faded and I no longer needed or wanted a bowl of candy at my house (although I do kind of revert during the holidays). As a child though, my craving for candy was very strong.

So, we hunted glass bottles. The verges of the road were wide in our area and people routinely threw bottles out of their car windows. Each small bottle was worth 2 cents (including beer bottles) and the big quart bottles were worth 10 cents. At a time when a Charm pop was 5 cents, even a few bottles would buy a handful of candy. I would take off on my pony with a burlap sack tied to my waist with bailing twine and scour the sides of the road for bottles in any shape or size, usually with my sibs as well. Most of the beer bottles were brown, with the occasional clear quart of Colt 45. The coke bottles were light green. Pepsi was clear with a painted on blue label. It was like finding little nuggets of happiness buried in the knee high grass.

Then, when we had gathered a bunch (my sibs always liked to help) we would ride down into town to Johnson's Store and trade in the bottles, divvying up the cash between everyone who helped and spending it on sweets. The more bottles we found, the more candy there was for all of us. This was a time when you could get half-penny candies, charm pops for 5 cents, licorice for 2 cents, paper lined with candy buttons for a penny, wax formed bottles with sweet fluid inside 5 cents for five of them, blow pops (first came out when I was about ten) for seven cents, the flat pieces of taffy in grape, cherry and strawberry flavors for ten cents (which taste a lot like soap now - just saying), and double bubble gum for a penny. We would exchange the huge bag of bottles for much smaller bags of penny candy and munch our way home.

One of the things I always looked at was the Hostess pies. Cherry (my fav) by choice. It was a small pie with heavy sugar on the outside and cherry filling on the inside. They were hard to come by, being 25 cents at the time, and much valued as a treat when I had collected enough bottles to buy one of my own. Sometimes, once I was in high school, my mom would give me a dollar and I could go buy lunch at the store. Sometimes, that lunch would include a cherry pie by Hostess. I probably only had one or two my entire childhood. (I think my fascination with them has flowed over into the books I like to read - I love reading about eating fruit pies - like in the Pern series- and I have always wanted to order and eat a small meat filled or fruit filled pie). I coveted them.

It made J laugh when I spotted a full display of Hostess pies at our local grocery store last night and plopped a couple of them in the basket. I told her how much I loved them when I was younger and how they were hard to come by, being very expensive at the time. I had coveted them much more than I had ever eaten them. Now, as an adult with discretionary cash, I was able to casually toss them into the cart without worrying about the price. It's the little things, you know. Just like with the bowl of candy bars I fantasized about in my childhood, this desire has stuck with me as well.

It made her laugh even harder when I bit into it this morning and almost gagged. Gone was the heavy, sweet cherry goodness I remembered, replaced by thick, cardboard like cherry gagginess. My fantasy of wonderful Hostess pie yumminess was shattered at the first bite. There was nothing remotely yummy about it. I bravely ate three or four bites and then decided I didn't need to make a point and finish it. It went into the garbage along with the fond remembrances of my long ago youth.

Let this be a warning. You can never go back. I'm a bit bitter about that.


  1. I loved this! I always love your stories from when you were a child because it was such a different world! And you're so good at describing that time.

    I didn't like taffy until I discovered Ocean City saltwater taffy. It doesn't taste like cardboard! ;) They still make the real stuff out here.

    1. The taffy that I bought as a kid was flat and long, not like salt water taffy at all. It was wonderful as a kid - tastes like soap now.

  2. Man, stuff was always better when we were kids. Or at least, we thought it was. My mom would never let me have the "sugar cereals" in the grocery store (oh how I coveted Lucky Charms). Only Cheerios or Golden Grams. I remember having a sleepover at a friend's house and being amazed to be given a bowl of Lucky Charms... and almost throwing them up. Ugh, they were beyond gross.

    I don't eat much cereal as an adult (museli usually), but if I do, it's half Cheerios and half blueberries. So really the Cheerios are a conveyance for the blueberries, because eating plain blueberries in a bowl of milk with a spoon would be awkward. Gotta keep up appearances! ;)

    1. Froot Loops and Sugar Corn Pops. I still buy the Sugar Corn Pops on occasion.