a peek inside the fishbowl

12 Jun, 2018

Like a kid in a candy store

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Misc. life

I was photographing a woman who lives in my area for a Q&A to be published in the next edition of Kitchissippi Times. She’s a fitness coach for older adults and we got to chatting about this and that. Of course, given her area of expertise, we talked about health and fitness, especially the question of Getting Fit. How does one get fit, exactly? And how do we maintain a decent level of fitness? Some would recommend joining a gym. We certainly see enough articles about THAT in early January. Just lace up and hit the gym! Easy peasy, right? I’m willing to bet that a very very small percentage of people who join a gym learn to love the gym enough to stick with it for the rest of their lives.

The trick is, of course, to find an activity that you love enough so it gets you off the couch. Many experts recommend you look to your childhood if you’re wondering what that activity might be. Maybe you were the kid who ran circles around the other kids during track and field. Maybe you swam across the lake at the cottage every year. I was a kid on a bike.

Things were different back then. (I am, of course, referring to the 1980s.) My bike was purple, with a banana seat and big handle bars, sort of like this:

I wish I had a photo of me and my bike. I remember having those colourful and crinkly handlebar streamers and putting cards in the spokes with a clothes pin smuggled from someone’s laundry line. That bike meant freedom – wind in my hair, a pleasant ache in my legs, the sound of gravel crunching under my tires and the soft puttering sound of the cards in the spokes – the feeling that came with that was as big as the sky and as wide as the world around me.

In those days, I had every crack in the driveway, the curbs, and the road, memorized. That’s how much time we spent outside. I have no idea how old I was, but I remember sitting with another kid, picking clover or dandelions or perhaps playing “tree or bush” with grass that was about to go to seed and having this conversation:

“Is today summer?”
“Yes, today is summer.”
“What about tomorrow?”
“Yes, that’s summer too.”
“And the next day?”
“Yes.”
“And the next day?”
“Yes.
“AND THE DAY AFTER THAT?”
“Yes.”

We both were awed by the very idea of a summer that sprawled so far ahead of us, so far, in fact, we couldn’t even figure it out. We just knew that summer seemed to be endless, until it ended.

On our bikes, we’d compete to see who could pull off the longest skid mark in the sand. This was accomplished by riding as fast as you possibly could and then slamming the brakes at the edge of the Skidding Area (which was really just sand and gravel at the side of the road). There was always some boy trying to be Evil Kinevil or attempting to “pop a wheelie.” I noted very early on that boys would try just about anything to impress us girls, especially if it resulted in road rash.

No one wore helmets. This would have been a foreign concept to us at the time, same as the concept of bringing a water bottle or a wallet. Everyone knew that if you were thirsty you just drank water straight out of the hose. Or maybe if you were lucky, Paul’s grandpa would make Kool-aid and dole it out to us in Dixie cups again. During the day, venturing indoors – even for a moment – was risky business because your parents might remember there were chores to be done, or suddenly take you clothes shopping or something equally horrible. Out of sight out of mind was our mantra.

We were completely unencumbered, by anything, really. Even life itself. It was, after all, summer. As long as we were in by the time the porch light went on, everything would be fine.

We had a variety of destinations. Up until the sixth grade I played with the kids in my immediate neighbourhood; on my street or one or two streets over. Bikes often littered the driveways or lawns, depending, of course, upon that day’s adventures.

Two of our neighbours’ driveways were steeper and connected in the middle, which gave us a unique opportunity to swoop from one side to the other while executing daring tricks and stunts to impress the younger siblings. One time we told them they needed to pay admission to our bike show.

We also biked to the park or to the public pool, but our favourite destination was the candy store. It was called the Carousel. (I grew up in Bramalea, which was annexed to Brampton at some point.) It was a bit of a bike ride away and involved a major intersection, but that was no big deal. All we needed for a trip to the Carousel was pocket change.

I remember marshmallow strawberries in paper bags. Packages of ‘Lik m’Aid,’ Nerds, Sweet Tarts, boxes of pink popcorn, Cracker Jack (when the prize inside used to be good!) and Big League Chew. It was cool to buy Popeye candy “cigarettes” and bring them out during recess. It was a tube of brittle candy that had a red dot on one end and was wrapped with white paper in a way that each end was exposed. If you blew through it (like you would blow air through a straw) the candy dust would come out the red-tipped end, thus creating the illusion that you were actually smoking. This was cool. (I know, I still can’t believe it either.)

I seem to recall the Carousel sold toys too – Silly Putty and Slinkies – but I may be misremembering. What I DEFINITELY remember is how much I wanted a Monchichi toy. I still remember the commercial.

Mexican jumping beans, on the other hand, was a novelty I could afford. Or perhaps I had convinced my parents to buy some at the hardware store, where they were displayed on a rack in their tiny clear boxes right by the cash register.

The Carousel had cardboard cartons of “lucky” rabbit feet – piles of them – dyed in a rainbow of colours, mint green, lilac, pink, pale blue. There was a small chain on one side so you could use the limb as a keychain. I thought this was macabre, even as a kid.

The Carousel was a popular destination for frozen treats. Freezies were cheap (they cut them open with giant scissors right on the spot, but if you forgot to ask you’d have to rip the end open with your teeth) and there were also popsicles. If you were short on cash maybe one of your friends would split one with you, although this could be a challenge because sometimes they wouldn’t break evenly along the middle gully. Sometimes it broke across the middle the wrong way, which meant that someone got the top half (i.e. the part without a stick in it) and had to be eaten quickly before it melted. Grape popsicles were especially tricky and everyone was afraid of what their mother would do if they came home with purple stains down the front of their t-shirt.

Rockets, Fudgesicles, Creamsicles, ice cream sandwiches, were special and kind of a big deal if you got one. They were a heavenly respite from the heat of the summer PLUS you were the envy of others. Sundaes were a particular favourite of mine. These were essentially small cups of ice cream with a lid you peeled back. It also came with a wooden tool with which to eat it. It was supposed to be a spoon, I guess, but it’s really just a flat stick that’s wider and rounded on each end. You used this utensil to eat the ice cream, obviously, but as it happens, it was always the last thing in your mouth after the ice cream was eaten. Some kids would chew this spoon-stick for awhile in order to extract everything they possibly could from it. The feeling of the wooden stick in my mouth, along with its mild vanilla flavour, is one that will always remind me of those summers.

I was thinking of all of this yesterday, and more, while the eldest and I rode our bikes to Britannia Beach. I thought about how good it feels to ride somewhere on your own steam; the ache in my legs. I may not have streamers on my handlebars anymore, or a banana seat, or a big rubber horn to honk with happiness when the mood struck me, but the wind in my face and the sun on my skin is still the same.


2 Responses to "Like a kid in a candy store"

1 | Jinjer

June 14th, 2018 at 9:24 pm

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The world would be a happier place if we all had a corner store like that and could ride our bikes everywhere!!! Thanks for sharing such a SWEET memory!

2 | Claudette

June 15th, 2018 at 11:06 am

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Gosh, summer did seem so endless back then…now, I yearn for it to arrive and within a couple of weeks I start panicking that before we know it, it’ll bend and September with all its craziness begins anew…

It’s funny thinking back. I think my kids still have this vision of summer being a long stretch of nothing to do.

And the bikes are ready to go at our house. We can go further now that they’re older, and we have new, wider, safer bike trails along the shores of Lake Ontario, so I’m definitely looking forward to some cycling days.

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our two daughters Emma (18) and Sarah (16). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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