Taking things literally

(It starts in a candy store and eventually works back to my grade school years.)

A recent One Big Happy has Ruthie trying to buy some candy:


Well, it’s called penny candy, but that’s just its name, not a description. You can’t take the name literally.

From Wikipedia on bulk confectionary (apparently, the technical name used in the industry):

Bulk confectionery is a method of commercially dispensing multiple small units of confectionery, either in manufactured bags with a fixed number of units per container, or by the amount of mass placed in a bag. The former is typically used in vending machines, while the latter is more common in retailers that specialize in selling confectionery. Some shops allow the customer to mix multiple types of bulk confectionery in the same bag, then purchase the mixture based on the total weight.

In the United States, some of these confections are called penny candy, and are sold by the piece in candy, soda fountain, and five and dime stores. In Britain, this type of candy is also referred to as pick ‘n’ mix. It is also known as loose candy.

… Because of inflation and the decline of the penny’s value, penny candy is more often sold for a nickel or a dime. Penny candy is a tradition that became more uncommon after the 1960s as shopping patterns changed and the number of small mom-and-pop shops and general stores was reduced. Some of the older stores sold penny candy as well as lunchmeat and newspapers.

A fully-stocked penny candy store at the logging town of McCloud, near Mount Shasta, CA (link):


About the Palo Alto Creamery, where I had breakfast this morning (from 2014 e-mail to my 1958 classmates at Wilson Joint High School in West Lawn PA, in an exchange about West Lawn Grade School):

Palo Alto has a diner / soda fountain that’s been in operation since 1923 and is ostentatiously proud of its old-fashioned look and services … By the cash register there are glass jars of “penny candies” of many familiar types. These days they cost a dime — not at all a bad bargain (the penny postcard of our childhood now costs 34 cents).

We were talking about a corner store across the street from our elementary school (one of six that fed into WJHS), and Sylvia Smith Talmadge wrote:

Someone mentioned Oscar’s store across the street from the West Lawn school…. and buying comic books. I never had money for comic books, but every now and then, after considerable begging, my father would give me a penny or two to buy candy.  This was at lunchtime… I always went home for lunch because we lived so near the school.  Do any of you remember that a penny would buy two green jelly mint leaves, or three malted milk balls, or a licorice strap? Quite often there was a line at the glass-front candy counter as each child took time to decide what their penny or pennies would buy.

By the way, the store was called (Oscar) Reifsnyders.

I certainly remembered the malted milk balls, three for a penny. And the comic books (the store was my source of Classics Illustrated comics, always entertaining, and some others, though my sources of tougher stuff were elsewhere, in downtown Reading, a few miles to the east), and the early Pocket Books cheap paperback reproductions of serious literature (which I devoured; I especially remember  John Dos Passos’s innovative 1919, with the Reginald Marsh drawings — probably the first truly adult book I read, and I read it many times, until it finally disintegrated here in Palo Alto, six moves (and over sixty years) away from West Lawn).

No picture of Reifsnyders (long since gone), but here’s a picture of the school (also long gone), supplied recently by Sylvia:


Our discussion of penny candy from Reifsnyders developed out of another discussion, of our grade school class, which was precipitated by my mailing out this adorable photo of my 2nd-grade class in 1948, on the front steps of the school:


Identifications: I’m the second in the back row, in between Eddie Melvin and Richard Inu; the first kid in the middle standing row is Al Fritz, my best buddy from those days and still a friend of mine; the third kid in the first standing row is Lenore Barth, my best female friend from childhood, whose family lived next-door to mine (her brother George is a Stanford colleague of mine — in music, not linguistics); and the fourth kid in that row is Sylvia Smith (now Talmage), whose near-photographic recollection of people, places, and events from that time is absolutely astounding. (The teacher is Miss Kramer, who everyone agrees was a fabulous teacher.)

(The photo came to me in a big box of stuff my step-sister Carol shipped to me after her mother, my step-mother Ruth, died. These were things, almost all having to do with me, that my dad had saved and carted around with him in an enormous number of moves over the years, mostly within California, before he settled with Ruth in Arroyo Grande. I had no idea. Well, he was enormously proud of me.)

More on West Lawn to come in future postings.

One Response to “Taking things literally”

  1. Sylvia Talmage Says:

    How precious! Thank you for responding. As I get older, I look back more fondly at those times than when I actually lived them. I adored Miss Kramer.

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