I was blessed to grow up in Buckhead during what would be known as the high-water mark of sweet snacks. Never again would American children have such a vast array of sugar-coated options to tempt them. During the 1950s and 60s our access to the heavenly delights was in no way limited by the oversight of the Food and Drug Administration or any other government agency. Manufactures could put just about anything they desired into candy to seduce our common sweet tooth. Red dye #40? No problem. Hell, they could have probably put in rat feces and we wouldn’t care. Just give it to us in concentrated form and we were happy.
Before we dive into the marvel of these snacks, let’s first review where they could be obtained during that wondrous time. As a child on Wieuca Terrace our main supplier was Ray’s Quick Mart, across from where Phipps Plaza now sits. Ray’s was so close we could ride our bikes up there to score the candied delights and be back before mom even knew we were gone. As we grew older and spread our wings we learned not to depend on a single source to supply our habit. Northside Pharmacy, Wender and Roberts, Tuxedo Pharmacy, and the infamous Pot O’ Gold became full partners in the distribution channels we visited. Later, we ventured even further afield and would even visit Tucker’s Store out on Mt. Paran when a quick fix was needed.
I have a couple of kids and I cannot in any way relate to the sweet snacks they like to eat. Gummi Bears, Swedish Fish, Sweet Tarts, and all kinds of weird and strange flavored pseudo-foods find their way into their diets. I pity them as they exalt over the pale imitations now for sale on the candy racks. If they only knew what they could have devoured if they had been born a few decades earlier.
My childhood was blessed by being a Golden Age of Candy. Health concerns were thrown to the wind as we dove straight into a wave of candy with our mouths wide open.
Our desired snacks came concentrated and usually included only two or three ingredients. Of course, the primary foundation must be sugar, and I’m not speaking here of beet sugar. Give me high-quality pure cane sugar or nothing at all. Even in our youth we knew that the only sweetener fit for our syrupy aristocracy was what was known and praised as Dixie Crystals. These days there are all types of so-called ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ sweeteners. I date the decline of Western Civilization to the introduction of these horrid molecules into our candy stream. That, and the removal of the gold as a backing of our monetary policy, were the turning points in the American Experience. I fear for our grandchildren.
Dear Reader, in this writing I am not able to properly do justice to all the forms of sweetness that brought joy to my childhood. A personal relationship with candy is an experience that is akin to one’s taste in music. However, let me praise but a few that were among my favorites.
Sugar Babies came in a container that resembled an envelope. Due to their size, akin to a small marble, they could be devoured quickly. This brought the desired effect of a sudden rush due to the massive rise in blood sugar levels. You could eat the entire packet in two handfuls but that often brought a headache, though some of my comrades claimed to enjoy that feeling as they claimed that proved the “sugar was working.”
For those that liked a gentler onset, with a sustained plateau, the best option was the notorious and aptly named Sugar Daddy. This candy was only recommended for those that had develop a serious candy habit. It was not designed for those looking for a quick thrill, no, the method of delivery insured a long term and stable titration of the medication. Essentially it was a block of semi-hard caramel on a stick. Impossible to eat quickly, it could not be chewed but only licked or sucked. You would work at it for a while, then put it down until you felt the need to re-engage.
A Sugar Daddy could last for hours or even days. At this point I find it necessary to introduce a note of caution. There is one candy I remember that exceeded the addictive nature of the Sugar Daddy and could bring actual harm to the user. I only mention it now because the original formulation was discontinued in 1998 though it still might be cooked up in underground labs and sold in back alleys. It was the Black Cow. The Black Cow we knew was a slab of caramel dipped in chocolate with a stick. It took serious commitment to take on the challenge of the Black Cow. We knew well that the sticky sweetness of this product brought the promise of a cluster of cavities. However, and this is the dangerous aspect, it was so sticky that it could actually pull dental fillings out of one’s teeth. Not for the faint of heart, there should have been a health warning on the Black Cow wrapper. Thank God it is no longer sold in the original formulation.
Another personal favorite, especially when I was 8 or 9, was the discovery of candy cigarettes. After all, corporations thought that it was never too early to get children used to carrying around a small box of pretend cigarettes that would fit in your shirt pocket. This skill would come in handy in teenage years when they would transition us to tobacco. I’m surprised they didn’t try to market candy matches or lighters to us. Maybe they did and were kept under the counter so you would have to ask for them specifically.
I loved the tiny wax imitation Coke bottles that contained a small amount of flavored sweet syrup. I never knew if the wax was okay to chew but my brother said it was “food grade” and meant to be eaten. I tried doing that once and was stopped up for 4 days.
This onslaught of oral disease, cavities, and gum erosion brought on by our self-imposed dietary misadventures was, of course, a type of war.
In every war there must be heroes who stand firm in the face of enemy fire. In this conflict, it was the family dentist who arrived at the front lines prepared for battle. Our hero was the legendary Buckhead dentist, Dr. Barksdale. He was a quiet man with a steely determination and the patience to root out even the smallest imperfections encountered in my mouth. Never judgmental about his oral discoveries, he was always neutral and matter of fact in his chairside comments. “Still eating popcorn?” I remember him asking more than once. All praise to Dr. Barksdale and his noble comrades who fought the good fight on our behalf in a war so long ago.
As there are two sides to every coin, so it is with candy. I had more than a few friends who were drawn to the dark side of demon sugar. Those poor souls could not be satisfied with a simple Mars Bar or Almond Joy.
In their mindless pursuit of a high level of sugar in their brains they became depraved and lost their very souls.
Driven mad by desire, like Icarus, they flew too close to the sun and their wings melted. These sad and lost friends could be easily identified by a sole pitiful activity. They were reduced to the use of the infamous Pixy Stix. This notorious device applied a sudden and complete delivery of pure sugar to the tongue. It was known as “mainlining.” I had one friend, let’s call him Bobby Lee, whose primal desire for sugar was not even satisfied with multiple shots of Pixy Stix. This poor child was reduced to eating spoonful after spoonful of a powdered drink mix known as Tang, directly from the jar.
So, is there a lesson to be learned here? We only must turn the page back to Aristotle who recommended “moderation in all things.” I take that to mean that indulging in a Snickers bar or a few M&Ms from time to time is just part of being human, but if you find yourself eyeing the Pixy Stix, you might want to reach out to a friend before it is too late. The candy slope is not only sticky, it is slippery.
Author, Buckhead Tales