Two years ago, instead of springing for a nice all-inclusive year-end vacation, I decided to literally put my money where my mouth is.
I got a root canal for Christmas, which led me to figure that it was time to have my teeth checked.
It had been three years since my last check up. My teeth were a disaster. I think the three dental professionals who took turns inflicting pain on me were all part of the Mesa Mormon Dental Mafia. As far as gangs go, I must say they were pretty nice. They were clean cut and eschewed Harley-Davidsons for fully loaded Toyota FJ Cruisers. No crowbars were used to extract the teeth or collect on the bills.
I didn’t think I had it coming. After all, I brushed pretty diligently. And although my floss dispenser gathered dust, most of the time I was doing well in cutting down on that dreaded enemy of the enamel – sugar.
That is saying something, considering how much I loved candy when I was growing up. There was nothing better than going to the local convenience store or newsstand and standing in front of the candy counter with my allowance burning a hole in my pocket.
The choice of candy was kind of strategic. You only had a limited budget and lots of candy choices. Not the cornucopia of super sour, rainbow unicorn gummy weirdness of today, but still a lot to consider.
For cheap, tasty and long-lasting satisfaction – you couldn’t do much better than black ball licorice jawbreakers. If you loved licorice of course. Otherwise you could go a little more upmarket for a cinnamon fireball which had the bonus of a chewing gum centre.
I would stick my grubby fingers into my mouth to fish the jawbreaker out for a look at the colour of each successive layer. Wow, that must have really boosted my intestinal flora.
Cool factor – gum cigarettes. Smoking is cool, right? OK, at least it was in the early 1980s. You could take the paper wrapped gum, roll the paper layer between your finger and thumb, put the end of the tube to your lips and “poof!” – blow a smoke-like cloud of corn starch into the air. Ahh… that’s the stuff.
MacIntosh Toffee. A cellophane wrapped brick of tooth-torturing toffee. Another budget stretcher, when you cracked the toffee you could pick the size of each morsel. Allowance running thin? Give your “Mack” an extra smack.
Other great standbys: sour soothers (the older and chewier the inventory, the better), rocket pops (the aforementioned grubby fingers fishing through the bin for ones with either a lime and lemon layer, or orange and lemon layer), and the classic LifeSavers variety roll (except for the pineapple flavour – sucked grudgingly as a candy of last resort).
When I got a little older, I was more into chocolate bars and wasn’t too fussy, although I did avoid some like “Big Turk” and “Cuban Lunch”. Not for racial or political reasons, I must clear that up right away. The “Big Turk” is like a giant chocolate covered berry flavoured jelly. In other words, gross. “Cuban Lunch” – a nondescript lump of chocolate with a few peanut nuggets in it. In other words, sad and gross.
Most kids develop a taste for candy early, and I can give some credit or blame to my grandma and grandpa for a life of dental crimes.
When I was a wee lad, I remember hearing my Grandpa Dell’s pickup roll into the driveway on evenings when my Grandma Eleanor was taking care of me. He would come in all dusty and sweaty from the day’s work felling trees and set down his lunch box. I would run to the hallway to ask him if he had any chocolate left. Grandpa worked hard and sometimes he needed that chocolate to get through the day. But other times he would reach his calloused and grease-stained hand into the lunch box and pull out a candy bar to share with me. The best kind? The Neilson Treasure Bar, an aptly named gold foil-wrapped bar with eight different flavours of filling, one in each square. All good to my pre-school palate except for coffee cream.
And Grandma? Well, she still has a sweet tooth. I seem to remember her joking that the front tooth that remained when she popped her partial plate out was “the sweet one”.
One of the most coveted heirlooms of our clan is a tall black, jewel cut carnival glass pedestal candy dish with lid. I am simply amazed that for as many kid fingers handled that lid, the candy dish never broke.
If there was no danger of dinner being spoiled, we would ask: “Grandma, can I have a piece of candy?” With the answer to the affirmative, we would open the dish with sacred reverence to see what lay inside.
Lemon drops, Scotch mints, English mints, wrapped toffees, cellophane twisted butterscotch and cinnamon tablets – a cornucopia of sweet candy goodness. And surely “a piece” meant one for now and one in the pocket for later, right?
Such is life, sweetness and pain mark the march of time. Now that I am older, I can afford all the candy I want. I could even go online to find a box of cryogenically preserved Neilson Treasure Bars to satisfy my sweet tooth and sense of nostalgia. But then again, I should probably save that money for my next trip to the dentist. My sweet memories have no calories nor do they contribute to holes in the teeth or the family budget.