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Candy from the Popcorn Wagon

The taste of summer freedom

By Rebecca MortonPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
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Photo by Tatiana Sukhova on Pexels

It was called the “Popcorn Wagon”, because that’s what the large sign over the window said. It was a stationary, red painted circus wagon which was a fixture at the edge of a road one block up from my block every summer, and ONLY in the summer. It had one window on the side which faced the perpetual line of children every evening until after the streetlights went on. I don’t recall it being open any time but the evening.

The Popcorn Wagon did not sell popcorn, but candy. Perhaps, at one time long ago, it sold popcorn, but now it sold the kind of candy that was called penny candy seventy years before. From large swirl lollypops to tiny lemon drops, it was basically fruit flavored hard candy in many different shapes. To us children of the mid 1970s, as the sun went down over our neighborhood, the wagon wasn’t only selling candy. It was selling summer freedom.

That freedom was even more evident in one kind of small toy that the wagon also sold, namely, "parachute guys": tiny plastic parachute men attached to flimsy plastic sheets by tiny strings. We would throw them up to the sky and they would sort of float down if the strings didn’t immediately break. I felt like a parachute guy those summers. But my favorite item from the wagon was both a toy and candy. It was also a fashion accessory. It was, if you haven’t already guessed, candy necklaces.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels

Candy necklaces didn’t even taste that great compared to summer treats like mint chocolate chip ice cream cones or grape snow cones, but this edible jewelry had something better than superior taste. It was outrageous rebellion on an elastic strand! It was candy I could wear. It was candy I could bite. Such activities were usually prohibited by all grownups around me. I was also playing with my food! As I bit each brightly colored jewel off and chewed it, I enjoyed and ruined my necklace at the same time until all that was left was the damp elastic lace of triumph! I also had audaciously blue and green lips and teeth, I’m sure.

For me, the buying and eating of each candy necklace (or bracelet, if I was lighter on cash), was not the end of the Popcorn (Freedom) Wagon experience. Unlike most of the other neighborhood children who waited at the window, handed over their coins, and skipped home with candy and parachute guys, I, on several occasions, got to hang out IN the wagon. OK, maybe it was just one or two times, it was after dark, no parents in sight, and I was helping sell the candy with my teenage babysitter and her boyfriend.

The Popcorn Wagon was just over a block from my house, so if my parents were concerned about my whereabouts, they could have come looking. But they didn’t. It was the 1970s, and I'm sure they figured I would be home before long. Meanwhile, I was inside the Popcorn Wagon, the air heady with the smell of sugar, bug spray, and money. When I remember it, I can hear the little radio just beneath the wagon window playing something grownup and cool like "Moonlight Feels Right" by Starbuck, but it was more likely songs like "Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band or anything by Barry Manilow.

The two teenage wagon workers would gossip and joke with each other and I understood absolutely none of what they were saying. I giggled anyway, which made them laugh, but not in a mean or teasing way. Then, during those wonderous moments when customers would appear under the window, I would sometimes be asked to get some candy while the teenagers dealt with the money. I was living the life of a free, but hard working teenager at the age of nine or ten.

After two summers in that neighborhood, my family and I moved to another state. There were no more summer evenings in or out of a "Popcorn Wagon" that sold candy, or even popcorn. There were no kids casting parachute guys into the sky in my new neighborhood. I did occasionally enjoy a candy necklace in later years, but it was never quite the same. I don't think I felt as free as I did at the Popcorn Wagon until I went to college.

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About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here: https://medium.com/@becklesjm

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