Homer’s Odyssey

As I looked at the small, green, plastic coffin in my hand, a joyous smile spread across my face. Inside were the delicious “bones” of a compresses sugar skeleton, just waiting to be pit together… and then eaten.

I hadn’t seen one of these little candy coffins since I was a very young child and holding one now brought me flying back to a mental image of the route I would take to bike to the store when I had managed to get my hands on some money and needed a sugar fix.

My childhood home was in just about the perfect place when it came to possibilities. If I went out the back door, I had only to walk to the back of a dead end road before I was looking at trees to climb, fields to cross, ancient stone walls to follow and abandoned railroad cuts to walk along as I enjoyed the birds, forest and quiet. If I went out the front door, I was in suburbia. Little developments in neat blocks with architecture that told you definitively what decade the construction took place in. It also was a rich environment to find friends in.

The neighborhoods were old enough to still have some charm and life to them. Not like the dead and sprawling house farms they’ve been making since the late eighties. Their weird, arching roads with cliché’ names taken from flowers, states of happiness or saddest of all, the farm they paved over. Here the streets ran in efficient, square blocks and were named, I’m guessing, after some of the various developers or possibly the initial inhabitants. The houses were closer than they would be if built today, but it made for a closer community as well.

What it also had was a good, old fashioned, neighborhood store of the type that is pretty much gone now. It’s name was “Stop and Shop” and as local lore had it, though the much larger grocery store chain had told them that they couldn’t use that name, our little family run corner store had been there first and had all the rights in the world to use that name. For whatever reason, that made us, as the kids of the area, stand in awe. OUR store was first! Cool!

The trip there wasn’t a very long one, unless you were reduced to walking it. On bike, it took perhaps ten minutes and the route its self was pretty enjoyable. Zigzagging though the quiet neighborhoods, it wasn’t uncommon to pick up more friends as we went until a convoy of bicycles driven by candy crazed children finally descended on Stop and Shop with coins jingling in pockets and mouths already salivating. The steps themselves up to the front door were special. The door had been installed at a forty-five degree angle on a corner of the building. The steps were made round and radiated down from the entry, like the layers of a cement wedding cake. I always noticed the steps as I padded up them and wished that my own stairs at home could be so cool.

Inside, it was exactly what you’d expect. This was before the days of scratch tickets and lotto machines and I’m reasonably sure that there were no magazines for sale either. Instead, there were the racks of potato chips, a small meat counter, milk in the back and beer down the side. You could also get ice cream from a cooler, but we had arrived with the candy display in mind and the racks and racks of it never disappointed.

The owner, a bearded and stern looking man by the name of, Homer must have made at least half his money from candy sales. Right in the front, near the register, there was a wonderland of confection. Compressed or liquefied, flavored, sugary treats were abundant in their numbers and diverse in their types.

Necco Wafers
Bottle Caps
Smarties
Sweet Tarts
Wax lips
Jaw Breakers
Big League Chew
Canada mints
Tart N Tinies
Nerds
Hot Balls
Gummi Bears
Juicy Fruit
Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum
Tootsie Rolls

And on, and on, and on….

Homer knew what he was doing when it came to ordering candy and he never, EVER let us down. Most of the hard candy stuff cost five cents each, though the usual candy bars and packs of gun naturally cost more. The best part was that he also kept a good supply of penny candy. That is to say, candy that actually cost one penny per piece. Some years ago I mentioned penny candy to someone a good deal younger than I only to meet with a befuddled look and the question, “What’s penny candy?”

Ok… I feel old now.

The penny candy was naturally at the bottom of the food chain, desirability wise, but still, it was nice to have to round out your pickings for the day and it filled out the little brown bags of hyper-powder that dangled from our handlebars as we zoomed home, shouting.

After paying Homer with our collection of scrounged pocket change, we’d hop back on our mighty steeds, new baseball cards firmly attached to spokes, and ride off into the sunset. Well… actually to the pond that was a little better than half way home. We’d sit in the grass, happily rotting our teeth on Twizzlers and Pixi Stix, arguing the benefits of Star Wars versus Star Trek or what ever else struck our fancy and throwing rocks at anything that disturbed the water’s surface. Hey, we were boys on a sugar high. What else would you expect?

All of this comes back to my little plastic, sugar filled coffin. I had almost forgotten about Homer but this made me recall him and realize that he had not only done a good job with the staples of a sugar addicts desires, but he had been seasonal as well. When Christmas rolled around, he got Christmas themed candy. When Easter came close, Cadbury eggs appeared at the counter. When Halloween was in the air, for one year at least, Homer bought these little coffin candies, and I had bought one.

This year, I took it upon my self to buy my Halloween candy for the night’s festivities and perusing through a catalog I came across them. They came twelve to a box and were not cheap. There was no way I would have bought them for that price when I was a kid, but I’m not a kid anymore… and I’m better at justifying dumb purchases.

I gave them away to kids whom I knew or who had really great and obviously homemade costumes. I like to reward those who put in the effort. By the end of the evening, they were all gone, except one. That one I had grabbed from the full box and set aside. Later that night, I happily put the puzzle like candy skeleton together and laid him to rest in his little coffin and there he lies, slowly loosing body parts as I pass and remember that he’s there. He’s delicious.

The Stop and Shop is gone now and I live far from there anyway. Homer was no spring chicken when I was a kid, so who knows if he’s still around either, but I’m glad for the memory. I’m also in his debt for making me a connoisseur of fine, compressed, flavored sugar, no matter what form it may take.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a grave to rob.

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