I was curing olives, mixing the brine, a combination of water and salt, and then ever so gently slicing each olive to the seed and tossing them into very large glass jars.
The jars are relics of my grandfather’s one-cent candy store, opened in Western Pennsylvania in 1927. The lids, still intact, are embossed with a beaming child holding a jawbreaker. “Giant jawbreakers, one-cent,” it reads.
As I ratcheted the lids and placed the jars in a cool place, I began to think of my grandfather’s candy store. As a child, I would stand transfixed before the candy counter. I would open those very same jars and pick a brightly colored jawbreaker. Reds, greens, blues and yellows, they were the size of a Morgan silver dollar. I coveted the colors themselves as much as the pleasure they promised me.
Traveling back to the past was a wonderful journey. I wish I could have stayed.
My friend Linda Eaton owns the Montrose Candy Company, a charming bastion of delectable treats that tempt not only the palate but also the soul. Linda chose the name because it resonated with the town’s hometown persona. The candy meshed well with the wholesomeness of Montrose.
I was anxious to take a tour. The nostalgia that permeates a candy store is a conduit to a simpler life and a simpler time. I perused shelf after shelf; each elaborately wrapped candy held a memory. The Lifesavers reminded me of my great uncle Benny, who would give me a fresh pack each time he visited. I remembered how I collected the coupons inside the wrapping of a Mallo Cup. I traded those coupons for an old-fashioned alarm clock that got me though college. Do you remember Turkish Taffy? Each time my unit was resupplied in ’Nam, someone in the rear made sure they sent a few bars of Turkish Taffy for the lieutenant. You don’t forget something like that.
I asked Linda, “Why a candy store?” Her reply was immediate: “Candy makes people happy! It takes people back to their childhood; when you were a kid in a candy store the possibilities were endless.”
I watched intently as Linda interacted with her customers. It was almost as though she were a docent in a museum. As she escorted people through the aisles she listened to customers’ stories provoked by the brightly-wrapped packages.
On many of the displays, Linda has written a brief history of the candy bar. French Chews began in 1890, Good and Plenty in 1893, Clark Bars in 1917 and Chuckles in 1921. The stories accompanying the candies are part of the fabric of America.
I overheard a customer remark, “This store is a blast from the past.” One man spoke of memories of being a boy working in his dad’s pharmacy in Oklahoma.
As Linda took me through the Montrose Candy Company she shared the stories of her customers and their connections to candy. “Everyone has a heartwarming story, and when they tell it they are happy. Stories create the relationships that build the store.”
Linda intuitively understood the importance of story and how story connects the present to our past and creates a link to our future. She appeared very adept at making her customers feel at ease and leading them on a journey to the past.
Technology advances at an exponential rate. As a result, simplicity is often the first casualty. Today, there are fewer places we can go that are reminiscent of a simpler time. The Montrose Candy Company is such a place.
If you visit and don’t see what you want, Linda will order it, and when your special treat arrives, she’ll give you a call. Tell her you want to try some Turkish Taffy. It’s sheer pageantry!
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at email@example.com.